As Western New Yorkers, we are lucky to be situated on the Great Lakes where we can take advantage of this amazing freshwater resource for our drinking water, recreational activities, transportation, tourism, energy generation, and more! According to the U.S. Geological Survey, only 1% of all of the water on Earth is usable by humans. We need to protect this resource for generations to come.
The Western New York Stormwater Coalition would like to remind people that there are many activities in our daily lives that can affect the water quality of our creeks, streams, rivers, beaches, and lakes and that it is up to us to keep them clean. One major item to consider this winter season is the use of deicing agents.
The most commonly used pavement deicer is sodium chloride, also known as rock salt. Excess salt can hurt roadside vegetation and aquatic life. Have you ever noticed the brown vegetation or barren areas along the road? Excess salt can inhibit the ability of plants to absorb water and nutrients. This will often kill salt-sensitive plants and make way for salt-tolerant invasive species such as common reed and cattails. With habitat loss and decreased diversity, buffer zones between roads and waterways may be reduced allowing more polluted water to run-off into our streams. The excess salt reduces the biodiversity of aquatic vegetation, animals, and microbes within the water as well. The overall effect is reduced water quality.
You may think that your walkway or driveway is not near a stream, so this doesn’t matter. However, when the snow melts or when it rains, all of the excess salt is carried down the pavement to the nearest sewer. Storm sewers lead directly to a body of water without any treatment. This is why it is important to read and follow the directions for all deicing products. Apply the minimum amount needed to safely melt the ice. Sweep up any piles that form and make sure to only apply the product to paved areas, not vegetation.
While this has been a mild winter, please keep in mind the importance of using the proper amount of chemicals and to only apply them when necessary. Unless you are cooking a pot of pasta, try not to salt the water.
For more information on how you can make a difference with water quality, visit www.erie.gov/stormwater.