Milwaukee Riverkeeper was recently awarded $47,400 to put Milwaukee on a “Low Salt Diet” by monitoring salt levels in area rivers and changing the practices of private salt applicators who account for more than 50% of salt pollution in the watershed! Thanks to the Fund for Lake Michigan, Milwaukee Riverkeeper will be able to monitor key locations for conductivity and road salt within the Milwaukee River Basin, hold a private road salt applicator workshop in the Milwaukee area, and educate community and neighborhood groups within the Milwaukee River Basin about what they can do to minimize runoff of salt into our waterways.

Salt pollution presents a real threat to the health of our Milwaukee River Basin. Salt spread on streets, parking lots and sidewalks to reduce freezing of water can negatively impact fish and other aquatic life when it travels in storm runoff into local waterways. Studies have demonstrated that chloride in waterways of the northern US, including tributaries to the Milwaukee River, has increased substantially in the past two decades. Salt from private parking lots and driveways has been demonstrated to contribute up to 50% of the salt load in some watersheds.

Now, Milwaukee Riverkeeper will be able to engage 35 existing Milwaukee Riverkeeper volunteer stream monitors in the Milwaukee River Basin to assess 35 to 50 tributary stream sites for specific conductance and chloride levels over 2 years (currently we are testing 8 sites). Riverkeeper and UW-Extension (in cooperation with DNR) have worked together to monitor winter chloride and conductivity levels since 2010. This funding Fund for Lake Michigan will allow us to ramp up these efforts to test additional sites for chloride/road salt runoff, and to incorporate conductivity monitoring into our baseline water monitoring program. All chloride and conductivity data will be entered into DNR’s database (“SWIMs”) and used to help list rivers and streams as “impaired”–giving those rivers increased attention and protection. This water quality data will also be incorporated into all training efforts to educate residents and private contractors about how winter salting practices can negatively affect our waterways all year round.

Most educational efforts surrounding salt use focus on educating public works staff responsible for salt application. There is little to no outreach to private salt applicators and little public awareness on overall of impacts of winter maintenance activities on our rivers, despite steadily increasing chloride levels in the Milwaukee River Basin.

Under this new grant, we’re partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Extension who will lead outreach efforts to share local water monitoring results and environmentally friendly winter maintenance practices with private winter maintenance contractors and individual homeowners or renters. We plan to train at least 40 private contractors at Simon Landscaping (the Energy Exchange), which has been set up as an exchange center for information on sustainable practices, and approximately 325 other individuals at 15 different workshops/educational meetings targeted toward changing residential winter deicing practices. The overall goal of the project is to change land use practices on 4,000 acres of land within the Milwaukee River Basin.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper thanks Fund for Lake Michigan for their generous support and continued investments to enhance swimming beaches, protect wildlife habitat, and improve water quality, particularly in the Milwaukee River Basin and nearshore Lake Michigan!