The Proper Time to Salt Fish

With the onset of winter around the corner, I say, ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!’ But let’s just skip the treacherous freezing rain, right? Unfortunately, our increasingly warmer winters are resulting in icier surfaces so over the last 20 years, road salt sales have skyrocketed. Certainly there are more roads and parking lots, but there is also a growing expectation by the public that our roads and parking lots are completely ice free. In the name of safety, salt use is on the rise. Faith-based institutions and shopping centers, fearing lawsuits, are known to spread unconscionable amounts of salt after a few flakes of snow. The catch is, more salt doesn’t necessarily translate to less icejust more soil contamination and water pollution.


Impacts of Salt

If environmental impacts aren’t reason enough to limit salt use, it is estimated that every $50 of salt applied causes about $750 of damage with burned vegetation, rusted cars and pitted pavements.

Salt is an environmental concern because it gets into our soils. It reaches our waters either by percolating through the soil or a travels directly via storm drains. The problem is pretty simple. Salt accumulates and sticks aroundbasically forever. Consider mixing a glass of water with a spoonful of salt. The salt will eventually settle out, and the water will evaporate, but the salt will remain.

 A water body is considered “impaired” at 230 mg/l. In practical terms, this is one teaspoon of salt per five gallons of water. Even this small amount negatively impacts our freshwater aquatic systems, depletes oxygen levels and even changes how lakes naturally mix. The proper time to salt the fish we eat is probably not when it’s still swimming, but on a dinner plate. There are also negative implications for our groundwater and soil salinity.


More isn’t better 

“More is better” is a prevalent attitude, but more salt doesn’t melt ice any faster than the correct amount of saltenough salt to break the bond between the ice and pavement. Consider also that regular salt (sodium chloride) won’t melt anything if the air temperature is colder than 15º Fahrenheit. For cold weather, other deicers containing, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium acetate or calcium magnesium acetate are better options. Sand provides traction, but poses other environmental problems.


Tips to Reduce the Need for Salt

  • Tried and true, it’s effective and a great way to exercise.
  • Timing is everything. If a storm is coming, apply a liquid deicer.
  • 15°F is too cold for salt. Which deicers to use is based on pavement and/or air temperatures. Consider investing in a nifty temperature gun for ($20) to eliminate guessing the pavement temperature.
  • Slow down. Drive for the conditions and leave ample following distance.
  • Be patient. Deicers may not be visible and they take time to work.
  • More salt does not mean more melting. One pound of salt is approximately a 12-ounce coffee mug. Use (less than) 4 pounds of salt per 1,000 square feet. A hand-held spreader helps in applying evenly.
  • Sweep up and reuse extra salt.
  • Become an educated salt product user. Salts range from simple table salt to calcium chloride. Whatever product you chose, make sure you know at what temperature it stops working.

Learn More

The website is very helpful and so is the Treehugger website.


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