Preparing for winter and chloride pollution: what you need to know

Ashley Hammerbeck, Project Manager, WSB

As your public works team begins to prepare for winter, they will undoubtedly be using road salt to accomplish the important task of removing ice from Minnesota’s roads and sidewalks to keep residents safe as they walk and drive. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, an estimated 365,000 tons of road salt are used each year in the Twin Cities metropolitan area alone. However, overuse of road salt can lead to chloride pollution which harms lakes and rivers and the aquatic species that live there – and in some instances, even pollutes our drinking water. Once road salts are dissolved in the aquatic environment, it is nearly impossible to remediate the pollution.

What exactly are chlorides?

Chloride salts are salts that contain chlorine (Cl). Chloride salts are used to de-ice our streets and soften our water. They are also a pollutant that can damage the environment as well as man-made structures if accumulated in large amounts.

How can chloride be harmful?

When salt is applied to roads, the ice melts and dissolves the salt which creates chloride runoff into lakes, rivers and aquifers. Similarly, the brine discharge from in-home water softeners is discharged to municipal wastewater treatment plants and ultimately reaches the environment. This chloride becomes very difficult – if not impossible – to remove from our water. Chloride can disrupt ecosystems, threaten aquatic species and wildlife, and make potable water undrinkable. In fact, it only takes one teaspoon of road salt to contaminate roughly six gallons of drinking water.

Chlorides are also corrosive, causing damage to vehicles, bridges and other infrastructure. This leads to more maintenance and ultimately more costs for residents and municipalities.

How can cities help curb chloride pollution?

Road salt is one of the largest contributors to chloride pollution in Minnesota, but it is essential in keeping the public safe during icy winters. Earlier this year, Minnesota created a statewide chloride management plan for managing salt use and protecting our water resources in a strategic way. Municipalities are encouraged to review the plan to learn more. In the meantime, you can reduce chloride pollution by doing the following:

  • Make sure road salt is stored and transported securely.
  • Use a sprayed salt brine on pavement prior to snow and rainfalls to reduce your need for road salt.
  • If it’s below 15 degrees, your typical road salt loses effectiveness. Consider other options like sand or other de-icers.
  • Only apply road salt where needed and leave space between granules. Your average coffee cup holds enough salt for 10 sidewalk squares or a 20-foot driveway.
  • Be deliberate about slowing down and capturing runoff stormwater from roads and urban areas.
  • Educate the public on the risks of chloride pollution and offer alternative materials such as sand for use in de-icing.
  • Provide information to the public on the local drinking water quality and the consequences of in-home softening systems.

Need help curbing your road salt usage or more information about chlorides in your water? Contact WSB.

Ashley’s experience includes water and wastewater process design, construction management, and contract execution for both municipal and industrial wastewater and water clients. Her work includes sanitary force mains, interceptors, and lift stations, water treatment and water distribution, WWTP and collection system rehabilitation, sanitary sewer odor control, biogas utilization, and sludge and biosolids handling.

A note from our CEO | Celebrating 24 years of WSB

October 4, 2019 marks WSB’s 24th year of business. Every year on our firm’s anniversary, I reflect on WSB’s journey. Recently, I was in New York City at a conference and was reminiscing on the past 24 years and thinking about the future. While in New York, I saw the musical Hamilton again and began to understand why I’m drawn to it. One of the early songs in Hamilton is called “My Shot.” Alexander Hamilton sings about his place in history and how he is not going to throw away the opportunity that he has been given. He says that he is like his country, “young, scrappy and hungry.” That description is a good way to describe WSB founders Ron Bray, Pete Willenbring, Don Sterna and myself 24 years ago. In terms of firm age and staff, that description remains true in 2019. We have grown from seven staff in one oversized office in 1995 to more than 500 staff in 12 offices throughout four states today. Our secret sauce has always been our attitude of hunger and scrappiness – now reflected in our WSB Way values that remind us to be bold, authentic, passionate, optimistic and visionary.

As four founders on the verge of something new, we didn’t throw away our shot and we continue to work every day to provide opportunities to our staff so they can take their shot in a supportive and collaborative environment. Now 24 years later, I am more inspired by our team and have more passion and fire to be the best that we can be. Our industry is changing at a pace that we haven’t seen before, and we must be at the forefront of that change. I’m amazed when successful companies choose to relax and rest on past successes. Nothing is promised to us and without continued improvement and change, those companies will not exist in the future. From technology, productivity, sustainability to diversity, there is much more to do, and I believe that we are well-positioned to continue to lead. In recent years, we’ve been improving quality, expanding our offerings to new markets and service areas, and focusing on hiring and developing an amazing team. I am so thankful for our staff and clients who have helped build WSB and I am excited for our future successes as we begin to celebrate our 25th year in 2020.

In the musical, Hamilton’s wife says that he writes like he is running out of time. I can appreciate that feeling as we race to be our best. WSB is still a young company and there is much more ahead of us. My advice to our staff is to keep their heads up and watch for opportunities. Don’t make assumptions or preplan your career. You might miss out on something wonderful that you couldn’t have imagined. We have lived by that philosophy over the past 24 years and I know that our 25th year will be no different.

Today, we take time to celebrate the success we have had for 24 years, and after we will look to the future and move forward with passion, optimism and a bold vision to be the most authentic firm we can be. As Alexander Hamilton says, “That would be enough!”

Beat the sleet – Winter preparedness

Klay Eckles, Sr. Project Manager, WSB

Minnesota winter is fast approaching; recent experience and climatologists tell us that our temperatures are warming, but also more moisture in the atmosphere promises more winter precipitation. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, and more snow. Are you prepared for what winter has in store for you and your facilities? The public has come to expect early and effective response to winter storms, and that puts pressure on operations staff to meet expectations regarding mobility and safety.

Effective snow and ice control starts with proper planning well in advance of the first snowfall. Indeed, with facility budgeting it often means planning 18 months or more in advance. Having a formal plan will help address the bad weather when it comes, and just as important, it will help justify budget requests needed to meet the increasing demands in the realm of snow and ice control. Most importantly, planning ahead will make you more effective in providing a safe environment for students. Safety is paramount; running out of material, short staffing, obsolete equipment, forgotten maintenance activities, and the inevitable “accidents” that result are preventable.

A good snow and ice control plan looks at much more than when and where to plow snow. It establishes criteria for measuring success–and gets the buy in from policy makers and officials on those criteria. It explores equipment, staffing, contractor, material needs. The snow and ice control program establishes the need and creates a justification for budgeting for the proper tools, equipment and staff to get the job done as everyone expects.

Ensure you are properly prepared for the coming weather. If you don’t have a formal snow and ice control program, or you’d like to make the one you have a more useful planning and communication tool, it’s not too late to ask for help.

Klay has worked in the public sector for over 34 years serving four different communities. He has experience in capital improvement planning, infrastructure planning, comprehensive planning, site master planning, facility expansion projects, and interagency partnership agreements.