Water Quality Impacts of Winter Weather

Mick RibaultBlog

Snow and Salt Effects on Water Quality

Winter weather can have big impacts on water quality. Snow melt and road salt are two main areas of concern. While it is important to be safe, be mindful of the amount of salt that you use. Remember that it has negative environmental impacts and that it’s best to use just enough to be effective without dumping a whole bag!

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Salt: What happens after the salt melts the ice?

There are a variety of different types of road salts that are used to de-ice roadways. One of the most common ingredients used that is harmful to the environment is chloride. Since there is no natural process for chloride to be broken down or otherwise removed from the environment, it can have lasting impacts. Studies show that the increase in waters polluted by chloride has increased with the increasing use of road salt.

Once chloride is carried into a lake or pond, it sinks to the bottom. Oxygen is then unable to reach the lower layers and this leads to problems. The layers of the water are unable to mix well and oxygen cannot reach the bottom of the pond. This harms the survival of aquatic life that live near the bottom and normally clean up pond scum. The health of fish, birds, deer, and other wildlife that depend on the lakes and streams for survival can also be harmed. In addition, millions of dollars must be spent on water treatment, as well as the replacement of wells, for drinking water.

One-Minute Video: How Road Salt Impacts the Environment

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Snow: Is there nitrogen in snow?

Precipitation collects atmospheric nitrogen as it falls through the air. While rain can contain nitrogen, snow usually has higher measurable amounts of nitrogen. In some ways, this can be beneficial. If the ground is not completely frozen, nitrogen from the snow can react with the soil and increase the nitrogen content, which is vital for the survival of plants. The snow that is not absorbed into the ground, however, turns into runoff and carries the excess nitrogen and other pollutants into storm drains and then into nearby streams and lakes. This can negatively impact lake and stream health.

 

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