Photo Courtesy of R.L. Rebach/The Record
Does your water taste salty? It could be from the snowstorms this past winter! Some states were forced to spread more salt than normal due to the several severe snowstorms. New Jersey, for example, spread almost twice as much salt this past winter than the year before! It is estimated that over 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads annually – about 137 pounds of salt for every American.
But where does that salt go? As the salt dissolves, it is carried away either by snowmelt or spring rains to surface water sources like wetlands, rivers, and streams or it soaks through and enters the groundwater. An estimated 40% of the country’s urban streams have chloride levels that exceed safety guidelines for aquatic life because of road salt runoff. A range of studies have found that chloride from road salt can negatively impact the survival rates of crustaceans, amphibians, fish, plants and other organisms. Also according to some studies it could even hasten the invasion of non-native plant species. In addition to harming the plants and animals around the body of water, road salt can also reduce water circulation in lakes and ponds by preventing oxygen from reaching the bottom layers of the water, reducing the overall nutrient load.
Road salt in urban and suburban areas can cause problems for a city’s Department of Water Management. Just like the salty air in seaside towns increase rust on bikes, door hinges, and other metallic objects, road salt runoff can corrode the city’s pipes that carry water to and from the water treatment plant, causing water main leaks, breaks, and bursts!
Many times the road salt runoff enters rivers and streams that are sources for drinking water supplies. Often the road salt runoff is not enough for officials to notice a difference, but this year many officials are seeing a significant bump in sodium levels. Some reservoirs in northern New Jersey are seeing an increased level of sodium, measuring about 170 milligrams per liter or about 3 – 4 time higher than during the summer months. For comparison, a liter of Diet Coke contains about 119 milligrams of sodium.
The EPA has not set health-based Primary Drinking Water Standards for sodium or chloride under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, but has set a recommended upper limit of 250 mg/L for chloride and 50 mg/L for sodium for the aesthetics or taste of drinking water. For drinking water to have a salty taste, the sodium measures between 30 and 60 milligrams per liter. While the higher concentration of sodium and chloride do not pose a health concern for most individuals – though those on a sodium restricted diet should take caution, salty drinking water is not refreshing. Switching to a filtered water cooler will ensure every sip of water will be cool and refreshing no matter how much road salt is needed each winter!