A Citizen's Guide to Cold Weather Practices

Winter brings with it lots of fun activities, like sledding, ice skating and skiing. But winter also means mounds of snow to shovel and layers of ice to remove from our sidewalks and driveways. We often make the job easier by applying deicers like salt. Besides sodium chloride, many deicers also contain chemicals like cyanide. When ice melts, the salts and chemicals dissolve and flow into street drains that lead directly to the river, endangering aquatic life. Here are a few tips to reduce salt use and prevent pollution year-round.

Help prevent stormwater pollution this winter!

Below are some approaches to reducing stormwater pollution from household salt use:

1. Try an alternative! Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) was developed as a deicing alternative because it has fewer adverse environmental impacts than salt and doesn’t cause corrosion. Although CMA is more expensive than rock salt, it is recommended for environmentally sensitive areas.

2. Reduce your salt use. By limiting the amount of salt we use on sidewalks and driveways, we can reduce the amount of polluted stormwater washing into our waterways.

3. Use De-icing Products Based On Winter Conditions Before applying a deicer to your sidewalk, think about the air temperature, potential for sun exposure, and how much product you'll need. Remember to follow label directions carefully and use products sparingly. It's easy to over apply deicers, but applying more than you need won't melt your ice any faster.

  • For Dry, Powdery Snow: Shovel or sweep snow immediately to avoid using deicer.
  • For Wet, Heavy Snow: Apply deicer product as soon as snow beings falling in order to prevent it from bonding.
  • For Sleet & Freezing Rain: Apply deicer product early on during these conditions to prevent ice from building up.
  • For Significant Snowfall: When more than 2 inches of snow falls, plow or shovel first and then use a deicing product to melt any underlying layers of ice that have built up due to packed down snow (http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf16691674.tip.html)
The most important step is to physically remove as much ice as possible before applying salt. Use a shovel to break up the ice before you add another layer of salt to your sidewalk. Adding more salt without removing what has melted can result in over-application, meaning more salt and chemicals end up in the river.

You can also reduce salt use by limiting access to your home to one entrance. For every doorway that is not used, there will be less salt running into the catch basin in your street.

More information about best practices 

*This project has been funded wholly or in part through Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Nonpoint Source Program by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.*