How you can help keep Lake Champlain clean:

Reduce Salt Use in Winter

Getting ready for winter in Vermont involves everything from putting on your snow tires to stacking up on firewood. You might also keep rock salt handy for those icy, snowy mornings in your driveway or walkway. Road salt melts ice to keep streets, sidewalks, and other walkable areas clear during winter months.

But using rock salt in the winter months can contribute to water pollution in Vermont’s lakes, rivers, and streams.

More than 48 billion pounds of salt is spread on icy roadways in the United States each year. Still, even using small amounts of salt around your driveway or walkways can have lasting effects, as a single 50-pound bag of salt can contaminate over 10,000 gallons of water.

That’s because salt washes off roads, parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks and can kill vegetation, seep into drinking water wells, flow into local water bodies, and harm fish and other aquatic life.

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Ways to reduce salt use this winter at home

Natural alternatives to salt will not only help protect plants, wildlife, and water resources but protect your pets as well. Standard ice melts, including rock salt, can be toxic to your pets if ingested.

Shoveling

Shoveling your driveway and walkways can reduce the amount of ice that needs to melt. Try to shovel snow before it hardens so it’s easier to maneuver and less heavy to lift. During a heavy snowstorm, this approach will mean that multiple rounds of shoveling are in order. Use snow cleats on your shoes to give you extra traction while you’re shoveling.

Alfalfa meal

Alfalfa meal is a natural, organic fertilizer that works effectively as a deicer and provides traction. It’s worth noting that alfalfa meal contains nitrogen, making it an effective fertilizer. Even though nitrogen concentration in alfalfa meal is low and it’s not quite as threatening to waterways, make sure to apply alfalfa meal in moderation.

Coffee grounds

Sprinkling coffee grounds on your walkway helps melt ice because the nitrogen in coffee grounds helps lower the freezing point. Coffee grounds will provide some traction on slippery surfaces, and coffee ground’s dark color will attract sun rays to help speed up melting.

Wood ash

If you have a woodstove or fireplace, wood ash, which contains potassium salts, will come in handy to melt ice and provide traction. Wood ash speeds up the melting of ice by darkening the snow and attracting heat from the sun.

Sugar Beet Juice

Sugar beet juice is safe for vegetation and the environment and effective at melting snow and ice in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees. Maintenance crews in cities across the United States and Canada are mixing sugar beet juice with salt brine on highways with promising results. If you’re looking to pour some on your driveway, you can order sugar beet juice de-icing solutions online or purchase some from your local garden or hardware store.

If you need to use salt, remember these tips:

  • Before anything, shovel away ice or snow before putting salt onto a hard surface.
  • Maintain 3-inch spacing between grains of salt. A general rule of thumb is to use no more than 1 to 1.5 cups per every two parking lot spaces.
  • Measure the pavement temperature to determine if salt will be effective. Salt only works on pavement that’s as cold as about 15 degrees or higher.
  • Sweep up extra salt and reuse it later. If you inadvertently use too much and leave it on the pavement, the salt will run off into a local storm drain, nearby vegetation, or water body. Be sure to clean up and reuse salt to do your part.