Smart About Salt could force contractor certification in Muskoka

21 Nov 2017 6:54 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

MUSKOKA — Anyone applying road salt in Muskoka may soon have to get schooled.

Dr. Norman Yan, an aquatic ecotoxicologist, and Tim Kearney, a retired contractor, on behalf of the Friends of the Muskoka Watershed have pitched winter salt management program Smart About Salt to receptive engineering and public works committee members at the District of Muskoka.

The program, created by a not-for-profit council formed by the Region of Waterloo, Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Ottawa and the Ontario Good Roads Association, aims to protect fresh water from winter salt and, among other initiatives, offers a one-day salt awareness and education program to certify those in the snow and ice control business, including contractors, supervisors, property owners, facility managers and more.

“We all know that millions of tonnes of salt are added to roads, parking lots and other surfaces in Canada,” said Yan. “This happens in Muskoka.”

He noted salt does not stay in one place — it gets washed into lakes, rivers and other water bodies by rain and melt — and chloride levels in lakes near winter maintained roads and facilities had increased in Muskoka, with levels above 10 milligrams per litre now fairly common.

And a few sat around 100 mg/L, he said.

He noted the Canadian water quality guideline for chloride listed 120mg/L as its threshold, which Muskoka lakes sit below.

But he said that guideline was based on studies done in hard water, rather than Muskoka’s soft water. A 2017 study by Queen’s University toxicologists lowered the maximum safe chloride concentration to 20 mg/L in Muskoka based on the plant and animal life specific to the region, he said.

“Suddenly, we have a bunch of lakes that are above that 20 mg/L chloride level,” said Yan, before pointing to the district’s strategic priority statements on the natural environment. “We need to really put into practice these words of adopting a culture of environmental protection.”

The Smart About Salt program, he said, has reduced Aurora’s salt use by 20 per cent and Kitchener-Waterloo’s by 25 per cent without increased cost or liability, as examples.

Kearney threw his support behind the program.

The retired contractor said companies often use significant amounts of salt, not only to quickly strip snowy roads to bare pavement, but also to bill clients more.

Education and penalties were needed, he said.

“We are putting down way more salt than we need to,” said Kearney. “I completely understand there are other materials out there that could be used and I suggest it’s a culture change that starts right here with our leadership.”

But he added everyone, including homeowners, had a role to play.

“They have to understand what salt does,” he said. “This area of the province is the green lung of Ontario. If the lakes get destroyed by chloride, what do we have left?”

Committee members would debate the program’s adoption in future.

by Alison Brownlee

Alison Brownlee is a reporter with the Huntsville Forester. She can be reached at . Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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