8 Things Humans Might Not Know About Salt

Sparkles salted river_ROW logo.jpg

Hey Humans, Sparkles here.

Boy, has my Facebook page been blowing up lately with great comments about winter salting. Trust me, I understand your concerns. It's winter in Wisconsin. We all want to stay safe, warm, sassy and cozy with nicely cleared sidewalks and driveways. We're not interested in being responsible for someone slipping on ice but we also want to help keep our waters clean for future generations. Is this combination even possible? Yes! Read on...

We've already had snow with more on the way. Add to that these fabulous single-digit temperatures and I'm all ready to put my booties on my paws and curl up by the fire to ring in the New Year. Alas, someone will have to clear the snow and ice. I bet there are things you humans don't know about salt. Check it out:

1)  Chronic aquatic toxicity. The rivers in our region are highly impaired for chlorides from road salt (See the DNR's 2018 Impaired Waters List here)

2)  Salty streams. When snow melts, the salt we put down on our properties to melt ice flows over the land or through storm sewers into lakes and streams. Once salt is in a body of water, it's extremely difficult and expensive to remove and is toxic to fish, other aquatic life and birds. Read one of the largest studies ever conducted on lake salinity here

3)  Prevention is key. The best way to cut back on salt use is to prevent ice from forming in the first place. Shovel walkways and driveways as the snow is still falling or immediately after the storm. The more snow you remove, the less salt you'll need and the more effective it will be.

4)  Got thick ice? Salt isn't going to help you out if you've got a 1/2" or thicker layer of ice to remove. You'd find yourself dumping piles and piles of it to do the trick. Sparkles isn't cool with that! Try a heavy ice chopper for thick ice.

Salt doesn't work on the thick stuff, people.

5)  Temperature matters! Is it 15˚F or below? Yes? Guess what...road salt only works if it is above 15 degrees. Don't bother wasting your time or money putting it down. Use sand for traction or an alternative ice melt product that is effective at colder temps. Google it.

6)  Don't over-do it. If you use salt, a coffee mug full (about a pound) is enough to treat about 10 sidewalk squares or a 20-foot long driveway. Or a handful per square yard. Calcium chloride goes farther with a handful treating three square yards.

 If you spread salt, aim for a coverage pattern that mimics the left side of this image. A mechanical spreader can help you get an even distribution.

If you spread salt, aim for a coverage pattern that mimics the left side of this image. A mechanical spreader can help you get an even distribution.

7)  Sweep up excess salt or sand after every storm. Not only will you keep it out of the storm sewers, you'll be able to use it again and save money in the process!

8)  Hired help? If you hire help for snow removal, please ask your contractor to use salt sparingly, use sand or another alternative, or perform more manual labor to reduce ice formation.

It is important to strike a balance between safely clearing snow and salt from your property and reducing impacts to the environment, human health, and pet health.

It may not seem like it will make a difference if one or two people use salt more sparingly--or not at all--but if many people do it, the impact on water quality can be significant.

Thank you for doing your part to help protect our waters. As I always say, "Clean water is a matter of proper training!"


~Sparkles the Water Spaniel~



Great additional resource:

Pollutants Don't Melt with the Snow!

 Piled snow contains pollutants such as salt, leaves, litter, oil, heavy metals, sediment and more.

Piled snow contains pollutants such as salt, leaves, litter, oil, heavy metals, sediment and more.

The warmer temperatures in southeastern Wisconsin over the last few days have caused a great deal of snow to melt. This is something we often celebrate as a potential sign that spring is coming! However, it's important to remember that snow can function as a significant source of water pollution since it accumulates a variety of contaminants from the atmosphere, motor vehicles, sidewalks and roadways. These contaminants can include salts and salt additives, heavy metals, petroleum products such as oil and grease nutrients, bacteria, organic chemicals such as pesticides and PCBs, soil materials and litter. As the snow melts, contaminants are carried directly into our rivers and Lake Michigan. Whether you like it or not, we are likely to see more snow before spring arrives. Read on to learn more about preventing snowmelt runoff pollution on your property.

The pollutant load in snow may be lessened on private properties as compared to snow removed from public roads, but there are ways you can reduce it even more. It may not seem like much if you're the only one taking action, but if many people make small changes in the way they manage their yard and snow removal, cumulatively it can have a big positive impact on water quality.

  • Look at your yard this weekend. Are there still leaves and sticks lying around? Rake or pick them up to prevent them from being carried away by snowmelt after the next storm.
  • Check your vehicles for leaking oil or other automotive fluids and repair any issues right away.
  • Clean up pet waste in your yard regularly. Many people believe that dog poop dissolves in snowmelt but it is simply not true. Bacteria from feces will make its way into our waters.
  • Do some research. If you choose to use salt in winter, read about your options and purchase an icemelt product that best suits our climatic conditions and average low temps so you’ll need to use less of it.
  • Pre-treat your walkways before the next big storm hits. You’ll need less deicer in the long run.
  • Keep walkways shoveled in the first place as snow quickly becomes ice when walked upon.
  • Mix sand with salt. You’ll use less volume of product to melt ice and gain the traction provided by sand.
  • Sweep up excess salt and sand after every storm. Not only will you keep it out of the storm sewers, you'll be able to use it again and save money in the process!

Follow these tips to help keep our water cleaner...because clean water is a matter of proper training!


The Big Freeze

 Check out those huge salt piles! Don't forget that extra salt you put down during the snowy months of the year can end up in our rivers and lakes!

Check out those huge salt piles! Don't forget that extra salt you put down during the snowy months of the year can end up in our rivers and lakes!

This winter is already testing the endurance of us all. Whether human or canine, it is hard to feel positive when everything is cold and grey, the streets turn brown, and simply walking outside to get the mail becomes a big adventure.

Here are a few things that are easy to do (even in the cold) but which can make a big difference for our streams and rivers:

-If you have a driveway or sidewalk that you are in charge of shoveling, take care to not use too much salt and sand! The extras may seem to disappear but they are disappearing into our storm drains that lead directly to our rivers and lake.

- This is the time of year that extra complications with your car can be a really big deal. No one wants to deal with car trouble when it's below zero. The best way to keep us from getting to work or school (or the dog park) without extra stress is to take your car in for a winter checkup. Having your car looked over by a professional means that they can stop fluid and oil leaks (which can run off into our rivers and lakes) before they start. They can also make sure that your tires are ready for winter. When you have good tires, not only are you safer on the roads but you don't need as much salt and sand to keep you from slipping on your driveway! 

-Take extra care to not dump chemicals or trash outside or into the snow along the curbs. Again, it may seem that these simply disappear with the snow melt, but they actually get carried with the melting water directly through our storm drains and out into our streams and rivers. This kind of runoff is especially dangerous because it can carry very concentrated levels of pollutants. This is also a great way keep our streets and sidewalks clean through the many freezes and melts to come. 

Keep in mind to be safe this winter and to not forget about all the ways your behavior impacts our waters (even when they are covered in layers of ice and snow). 

Remember your training!

A Dog's Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, humans!

If you are anything like me, you are terribly ready to spend an entire day eating, sleeping, and getting your ears scratched (..well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea). Even if the day isn't entirely a vacation for you, I hope that you are able to take some time with family, friends, or furry companions to reflect on the year and on all the good things we have to be thankful for. 

This Thanksgiving is especially important because of the increased political tension that has been a part of daily life for the past few weeks. (I think I missed something - was there an election?) It seems that we all need a little extra love and happiness right now. Even us dogs can tell that there's a lot more riding on this holiday than normal.

I just wanted to take a second to say thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for your attention to our rivers and lakes. Thank you for continuing to remember your training, no matter what the political world looks like. Whether you are a member of the water community as a volunteer, professional, or simply by being a community member who loves our rivers and lakes, your actions are important.

So, on that note, I wish all of you lots of table scraps, long walks, and belly rubs. Don't forget that there is work to be done, and that your efforts are important.

Happy Thanksgiving, humans!

Yard Waste Be Gone

Sparkles, here!

I just thought I would pop in to share some tips about an underrated issue that is very dear to my heart: yard waste.

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "How is yard waste underrated, Sparkles? I also love yard waste!" And I applaud you. Many humans seem to miss the opportunities that yard waste provides. But never fear! I am here to help.

Yard waste may seem like a nuisance but it is actually a fantastic source of health and protection for your yard and garden. Here are some of the best ways to take advantage of this unlikely source of garden sustenance:

1) Compost leaves and other yard waste and use the compost in years to come to fertilize your garden beds. If you are unsure how to do this, or don't have a compost system of your own, check out these resources!

2) Mulch leaves into your yard instead of raking them! Not only does this save time and energy, but it provides a layer of protection for your yard through the winter and provides a quick source of nutrients in the spring. Learn more here! 

3. Use shredded yard waste as a mulch cover for your garden beds to protect them during the winter and also start your gardening year off right with extra nutrients. Take care to always chop leaves before using them as mulch so that water can still reach the soil in the winter. Read more tips here!

4. If none of these alternatives work for you, go ahead and rake! No shame in keeping things neat and tidy. But please, dear humans. If you rake your leaves make sure you bag them so that they can be picked up by your municipality. When you rake your leaves into the street or sidewalk, you create pollution, flooding, and public safety problems. So if you still feel the "Call of the Rake", be sure to bag them up!

Check this list to see when and how your municipality picks up yard waste. 

And with that, I wish you all a happy fall!

Car Cleanup

By now, you've probably figured out that there are many different ways to protect and restore our waters and that many of them start in our homes and yards. But there is still one major problem we haven't talked about: automobiles. 

Now, I'm as fond driving as you are. Nothing makes this pup feel more alive that cruising around with my humans and feeling the wind blow through my fur. But my love for car trips doesn't blind me to the fact that, if they aren't properly cared for, cars can be very harmful to our waters and lakes. 

Many people don't realize that oils, antifreeze, and other hazardous fluids that leak out are extremely dangerous when they end up in our rivers and lakes. The easiest way to reduce their impact is to keep up with car maintenance to reduce leaks and to recycle used motor oil. As convenient as it seems, don’t pour waste oil into gutters or down storm drains and resist the temptation to dump wastes onto the ground. A single quart of motor oil that seeps into groundwater can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water.

Besides car maintenance, car washes are another place where some of us have developed bad habits. It may seem more environmentally-conscious to wash your car in the driveway and avoid using a large facility. But in fact, washing a car in a driveway means that all the soap, chemicals, and excess water simply runs into the sewers and out into our rivers and lakes. Instead, take your car to a professional carwash where they are required to drain their wastewater into sewer systems, where it is treated before being discharged. This spares our local rivers and lakes from the brake fluid, oil and automotive fluids. Many carwashes also recycle their wastewater, and use less than half the amount of water a home carwash does. 

Above all, the most important thing we can do is be aware. No one is perfect but awareness of where our water goes and what it carries on its journey can make a huge impact on the health of our rivers and lakes down the line. 

Remember your training! 

Sparkles' Favorite Humans are Stars!

 Jake Fincher and Allison Thielen talk about things we can all do to help keep our lakes and rivers clean.

Jake Fincher and Allison Thielen talk about things we can all do to help keep our lakes and rivers clean.

Boy oh boy, have I been excited lately! My tail just won't stop a waggin'. Two of my very favorite humans, Jake and Allison, were on TV this week...not once, but twice! If I seem a little relaxed between my bursts of excitement it is simply because they have been delivering my very own tips for keeping our water clean, giving me a bit of a breather. Or would that be a "panter"?

I'm just being silly.

On Tuesday morning, our Respect Our Waters partner FOX6 gave us the opportunity to see Allison talk about the importance of water testing to ensure the cleanliness of our rivers before going out to do fun things like canoeing, kayaking or swimming. Brian Kramp, who I still haven't yet met in person, had a great time learning about the water lessons and activities explored by kids at River Bend Nature Center's Water Wizards camp.

On Thursday afternoon, both Jake and Allison had a chance to speak on behalf of our partnered organizations, Sweet Water and Root-Pike WIN, on TMJ4! They borrowed a rain barrel and some cool native rain garden plants from my humans' house for the show. Aren't they good at their jobs? I mean, they are no Sparkles, but they are certainly helping me spread the word.

Stay tuned to FOX6 next week! You'll see Allison again on August 3rd during the 9:00 news.

It's getting late. I need dinner and some Zs.


Rain barrels save the day!

It seems like so many people have rain barrels these days and it's easy to judge from afar as your neighbors install them. You may wonder, will they really make a difference? 

The answer is YES!

First of all, any water that you can keep from leaving your property stops it from flowing into storm drains and onto our rivers and lakes, which makes a huge difference! During a one inch rain event, you can collect hundreds of gallons of rain from your roof runoff alone. Why not keep some of that volume of water on your property?

Secondly, having a rain barrel means that when there is little rain and everyone else is starting to worry about the water bill for maintaining their yard and garden, you will sleep easy at night knowing that you have a stock of water already sitting in your yard, waiting to be used. 

Thirdly, if you live in an area prone to flooding, having a rain barrel can actually reduce basement flooding issues! The barrel collects water and directs it away from your home's foundation.

Finally, they can actually make your yard prettier! That may sound cheesy, but rain barrels are blank slates waiting to be transformed into art projects, messages to your friends and neighbors, or just statement pieces in a color that fits your garden aesthetic. Let your rain barrel show the world that you care about respecting our waters and that you also care about making the world a more beautiful and interesting place!

Rain barrels are also very easy to install and maintain - If you still don't believe me (I am a dog, after all) check out this video

Pick up after your pets


For all you pet owners out there - we need to talk about poop.

It's not glamorous, it's not pretty. But we need to talk about it. 

It seems like leaving your dog's poop lying around shouldn't be that big of a deal. After all, wild animals poop all over the place all the time and no one is upset about it. Why is dog poop so different? 

The difference is that dog poop can contain over 23 million fecal coliform bacteria which can directly harm both human and ecosystem health. Dog poop often carries antibiotics which are also harmful. When dog poop isn't picked up, whether in your yard or in a public area, all of these contaminants are carried off by runoff and sent directly into our rivers and lakes. 

Still don't believe me? Want to see some science? The EPA estimates that two or three days' worth of droppings from 100 dogs in a watershed can contribute enough bacteria to impact the surrounding 20 miles and make them unsafe for fishing and swimming. As the EPA puts it, "If you think picking up dog poop is unpleasant, try swimming in it."

That sounds extreme, but it's true.

So if you own a dog and you care about having water to play in and drink safely, pick up your dog's waste. It really does make a difference. 

What's in a yard?

  Building one of 6 new rain gardens in the Century City Triangle Neighborhood with 10 seniors from the Milwaukee Collegiate Academy. 

Building one of 6 new rain gardens in the Century City Triangle Neighborhood with 10 seniors from the Milwaukee Collegiate Academy. 

Wandering around this fabulous city of ours, it's obvious that there are many different ways to maintain a yard (and even more ways to NOT maintain one).

While it is important to let your green space reflect your own tastes and ideas, its important to remember that what happens in your yard doesn't stay in your yard. 

Maybe you are of the mindset that the neater and more manicured your green spaces are, the better. Maybe you prefer to let your plants freely express their true selves with minimal outside influence. No matter what your gardening style may be, the best way to ensure a happy and healthy yard is to remember that your yard is connected to a much bigger picture: a watershed.

You may think that this means I'm going to yell at you for watering your lawn or or letting the sprinkler run a little longer than you should. And yes, wasting water is never a good idea, but let's face it: No one is perfect! Even me! If water conservation is a challenge in your yard, its still important is to keep any extra water you use from running directly into the sewers (and out to our lakes and rivers). As water passes through yards it picks up chemicals, bacteria, and other debris which are really harmful to our rivers and Lake Michigan. 

But there is hope!