Road Salt in Our Rivers

Chloride is a key element used in traditional road deicing methods across the northern United States through application of sodium chloride or calcium chloride. Although effective as a deicing agent, when road salt enters our waterways it can have negative effects on aquatic organisms. High levels of chloride have the potential to kill fish and other aquatic life instantly (acute toxicity) or to kill or harm aquatic life at lower levels and longer periods of exposure (chronic toxicity).

How can I help?

Because of it’s threat to our waterways, Milwaukee Riverkeeper is working to determine if chloride concentrations are reaching these harmful levels. The primary way that we are doing this is through our Volunteer Road Salt Monitoring Program. Volunteers within this program collect data on two water quality parameters: specific conductance and chloride. Specific conductance is measured on-site using a hand-held meter, while water samples are shipped to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene to test for chloride levels.

Since the goal of the program is to identify harmful chloride levels, sampling will take place within 48 hours after events that trigger road salt use. This can include large snowfalls or snowmelts. Milwaukee Riverkeeper Staff will contact volunteers before and/or during these trigger events with instructions on when to visit their assigned station.

Sampling sometimes requires repeated visits for up to five days in order to identify chronic chloride pollution problems. In these occurrences, Milwaukee Riverkeeper Staff may be able to step in to assist volunteers in taking water samples. Volunteers must be comfortable traveling on roadways soon after these large snowfalls and snowmelts.

This monitoring project is ultimately dependent upon winter weather conditions. However, volunteers can expect to start monitoring after their training date in January and finish monitoring on March 31, 2017.

Where are we monitoring?

Volunteers have the opportunityto sign up for one of our strategically placed monitoring stations. Take a look at the map below to find a station near you!

Sign Up, Training, and Equipment Pick-up:

To sign up for a station, click on the snowflake icon of your desired station. Then, follow the Sign Up Link and enter your information. All volunteers within this program will be required to participate in a 2-hour long training and equipment pick-up with Milwaukee Riverkeeper Staff in January. Participants will be contacted with training details after signing up for a monitoring station.

If you have additional questions regarding this program please contact:

Zac Driscoll, Water Quality Specialist

Check out our monitoring results to date!