The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is promoting a new effort to raise public awareness on the impacts of road salt on the state’s drinking water, pets and freshwater ecosystems.

While nobody is suggesting that we forego the public safety benefits of salting ice- and snow-covered highways in winter, the agency in charge of protecting state resources is urging the most efficient and conservative use of road salt.

Right now the DNR monitors chloride loading results in 26 of the state’s largest river systems. They say recent studies have shown a steep increase in chloride loads, from 600,000 tons annually in the early 2000s to nearly 800,000 tons per year by 2018.

More than 40 lakes and streams in Wisconsin have been designated as impaired by high salt concentrations. Nationwide, winter salt causes an estimated $5 billion in damage to infrastructure each year, including bridges and road surfaces.

One of the biggest solutions to ensuring we don’t oversalt roads is proper calibration equipment for the county highway trucks that road crews utilize to take care of all our major roads. They dump the biggest volume of salt and therefore, with a little tweaking, can conserve more salt in short order than that which comes from any other source.

Another big salt saver, one used in Vilas, Oneida and most counties, is the use of brine and pre-wetting road surfaces — both of which significantly reduce salt use.

But that’s not all. Through its initiative, the DNR is encouraging homeowners to make sure their water softeners are using salt efficiently. They offer an on-line diagnostic tool on their website to test that equipment.

The agency is also pleading for some common sense on timely snow removal before it turns to ice and requires salting. And they are urging people to scatter the salt they use, saying a 12-ounce coffee mug of salt is enough to treat an entire 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares.

Counties and towns can help the cause by identifying high-impact road drains that feed into rivers and lakes so that the salt runoff can be diverted or slowed to allow salt to seep out before affecting surface waters.

Years ago the town of Three Lakes discovered some of its downtown stormwater drainage was finding its way into Maple Lake, carrying salt and other pollutants into a body of otherwise clear, clean water. And they fixed the problem by diverting it elsewhere.

We are observing Wisconsin Salt Awareness Week, knowing chloride levels can have serious environmental and economic effects.

Behind the editorial ‘we’

   Members of the Vilas County News-Review editorial board include Publisher Kurt Krueger, News Editor Michelle Drew, Assistant Editor Eric Johnson and reporter Doug Etten.