Md. County Launches Anti-Sidewalk Salt Campaign

Montgomery County has just launched one of the first Maryland-county campaigns to get homeowners using less salt during winter storms.

The county’s “Salt-Wise” campaign targets the increasing chloride levels seen in the Potomac River and the Patuxent Reservoir over the past three decades.

The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) new initiative encourages people to use less salt on their driveways and sidewalks, as overuse causes salt to run into stormwater drains, local streams, and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.

“We all want every public and private sidewalk to be passable and safe following winter storms,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “However, when applying salt on sidewalks and driveways, we hope that homeowners and property managers will realize that overuse of salt does not help their efforts and only puts our environment at greater long-term risk of damage.” 

Graphic: WSSC Water

According to WSSC Water, the salt content in the Potomac River and the Patuxent Reservoir have steadily risen, with chloride levels roughly doubling in the Potomac and tripling in the Patuxent since 1989.

Graphic: WSSC Water

In addition to causing concerning sodium levels in drinking water and threatneing wildlife, the county says using salt to melt ice can also corrode concrete and masonry and hurt pets and plants.

To cut back on salt use and its negative impacts, the county suggests shoveling snow right away, before it turns into ice, limiting the amount of salt you spread (a 12-ounce mug’s worth is plenty for a 20-square-foot driveway or 10 squares of sidewalk), and sweeping up any dry salt left behind when the snow melts away, saving it to use again.

Of course, the Maryland Department of the Environment points out, chemical deicers aren’t much better when it comes to protecting the water supply and aquatic life. Instead, property owners can try natural clay cat litter.

-Meg Walburn Viviano