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Road salt in stormwater runoff

Road salt is put on our roads and highways to melt snow and ice every winter so we can travel safely. An average of 385,000 tons of salt is used by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation every winter! This number doesn't even account for salt used by businesses, schools, and the general public.

Road salt dissolves in water or snow and is washed down storm drains directly into the river. Road salt is not removed from water flowing through storm drains. Road salt can have harmful effects on plants and animals that live in the river. The Lower Chippewa River State Nature Area supports a wide variety of flora and fauna, all threatened by any changes in their ecosystem.

Fortunately, the Lower Chippewa River does not contain harmful concentrations of salt, but chloride tests indicate that concentrations in the Lower Chippewa River are steadily rising and will continue to rise if we don't change our habits.

One way to help preserve the Lower Chippewa River State Nature Area is to put pressure on the local and state government to reduce the amount of road salt used every year. Contact the city council officials in charge of public works. There are substitutes and additives that the city could use that aren't as harmful as road salt; these may be more expensive, but the environmental benefits are worth it. You can also help by reducing your own personal use of road salt. If you use salt at your home or a local business, mix the salt with additives like sand or gravel. Less salt on the roads mean a healthier Lower Chippewa River State Nature Area.

Next: Riparian buffers

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