With winter weather upon us, keeping our sidewalks and driveways free of ice is an important safety precaution. However, use of sodium chloride (rock salt) the most common deicer and other chloride salts can cause serious problems for our environment. Salt can raise sodium levels in drinking water, harm fish, pets, plants and other wildlife, and corrode vehicles, roads, bridges and parking lots. Several Northern Virginia jurisdictions participate in Virginia’s salt management strategy to reduce overall use of salt through applying brine, which has much less salt than rock salt, and other methods.
There are a number of actions homeowners can take to keep their walkways and driveways safe while protecting their plants, reducing harmful runoff and protecting pets:
- Shovel, scrape and sweep snow early and often to prevent ice buildup;
- Use calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) instead of salt—it is just as effective but with fewer adverse impacts or use sand, non-clumping kitty litter, or sawdust for traction;
- Use salt, if at all, sparingly—12 ounces is enough to treat 1,000 square feet or about the 20 feet of driveway—and sweep up after ice is melted to reuse later and prevent runoff into rivers and streams.
- Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, Beyond Road Salt: Winter Deicing Options
- Arlington County, Winter Salt Smart: This Winter Use Less Salt
- Minnesota Stormwater Manual, How salt works and overview of deicing chemicals
- University of Minnesota Extension, The effect of deicing salts on landscapes
- NC State Extension, Preventing and Managing Ice and Snow Damage to Plants
- Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Salt Watch Program