Road crews have been busy lately cleaning up from the most recent winter storm. Many truckloads of road salt, basically the same as table salt, are applied to treat roads and other surfaces across the region for a single storm event. We have been investigating salt concentrations around the watershed as part of our water quality monitoring program to understand how road salt could be affecting the river and aquatic life.
Salt is effective at melting ice, but it is damaging to almost everything else. Many of us are aware that salt is corrosive to cars and infrastructure, as well as causing damage to roadside vegetation, but we are concerned that it is also a major threat to aquatic life here in the Ipswich River watershed. Road salt eventually washes into wetlands and water ways through the storm drain system and as surface runoff. Salt has accumulated in the in waterways near major roads to the point that we observe high concentrations year-round. Freshwater creatures like fish, invertebrates and amphibians become severely stressed by these salty environments, or cannot survive at all. Amphibians (frogs, toads and salamanders) are especially vulnerable because they can easily become dehydrated by salty water.
Alternatives to road salt are being looked at along with better application strategies, but individuals can already help reduce the amount of salt entering the environment by minimizing or eliminating salt use on driveways and walkways. Do your best to remove as much snow and ice as possible to eliminate the need to use much if any salt or if this is not possible, use sand and even wood ash to improve traction. There are many threats to the Ipswich River and we will continue to monitor road salt as well as water quantity issues to protect and preserve the river for the many communities, and species, relying upon it.