Smart About Salt aims to improve Waterloo

Almost every person in Waterloo Region has been subject to the unfortunate slip and fall on a regrettably placed ice patch on their path to or from home, school or work. Most often, the immediate reaction to icy roads and sidewalks is to coat them with salt.

“In a lot of cases [though],” explained Bob Hodgins, executive director of the Smart About Salt council, “Putting down ten times or 20 times more salt than they need to because a lot of these guys really don’t understand how much salt is needed. They’re fearful of the risk of slip falls, so when in doubt throw tons of salt at it. If you paint it white then nobody’s going to sue you.”
Yet, this overuse of salt can have extremely detrimental health and environmental effects.

The Region of Waterloo, noticing this, began to take action back in 2009, creating the “Smart About Salt” council, a not-for-profit organization committed to the protection of the environment and the drinking water of Waterloo Region.
“Back around 2009,” Hodgins said, “the Region of Waterloo realized that in order to address the contamination that was happening in their ground water as a result of salt use, just dealing with the amount of salt used on roads wasn’t enough.”

He continued to explain that the Region began taking steps to reducing the amount of salt used on roads, sidewalks and parking lots in order to diminish environmental effects as well as ground water contamination.
“I think we have to recognize that the Region of Waterloo is a ground water-based community,” Elizabeth Witmer, Progressive Conservative MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo said.

“So we always have to be cognisant of the fact that if we overuse salt, it can eventually get into our rivers and our wells so we need to be doing everything that we can to avoid any unnecessary salt run off going into our river system.”
In order to help protect against these impacts, there were a number of different evaluation criteria that the federal government looked at.

“It includes effects in the ecosystem, like putting too much salt in the environment. Salty water has more negative effects, including the killing of trees right beside major roads,” said Eric Hodgins, president of Smart About Salt and manager of hydrology and source water for the Region of Waterloo. As well, the build up of salt that can accumulate in our drinking water can create not only an unpleasant salty taste, but it is also hazardous to your health.

“The over application of salt,” Eric Hodgins explained, “Has many different environmental impacts to the degree that Environment Canada has identified it as a toxic substance, as part of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.”

The University of Waterloo is currently conducting a study to see how much salt is enough when salting surfaces and determining how much is enough salt.
According to Bob Hodgins, there is no exact measurement for this quite yet, as the amount of salt will vary on a variety of factors … We have a feeling as to what is the right amount and certainly when we’re dealing with roads we have a good handle on what’s the right amount,” Bob Hodgins said.

“But parking lots and sidewalks behave a little bit differently because you don’t have the traffic on them. It also depends on whether or not you’re dealing with a light snow or a heavy snow or if you’re dealing with a cold day versus a not so cold day. It really doesn’t work below -10˚C. So there’s not much point in throwing a whole whack of salt at it if you’re dealing with really cold temperatures.”

“And the other thing we try to do,” he said, “is we try to send out a message for people: you live in Canada, so wear proper boots. You should wear proper footwear.”

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