New campaign underscores impact of road salt on environment

Eventually, these chemicals enter the natural water system, including municipal drinking water wells and surface water intakes, which can impact our drinking water sources, Conservation Ontario says

Conservation Ontario and local source protection authorities and regions have launched a 15-week public information campaign about how to “salt responsibly” this winter.

Protecting Ontario’s water sources is a critical step in bringing safe municipal drinking water to Ontario residents, they say.

“The objective of the campaign is to raise awareness of the road salt issues and to promote salt reduction and better road salt management (winter chemicals) while striking a balance with human safety when travelling,” said Deborah Balika, Conservation Ontario’s source water protection manager , in a newsletter.

Road salt enters the environment in several ways. Snow gets plowed to the road shoulder and meltwater either infiltrates through soil into the groundwater or runs off into drains and creeks or to stormwater management facilities.

Eventually, these chemicals enter the natural water system, including drinking water source protection and vulnerable source protection areas (municipal drinking water wells and surface water intakes), which can impact our drinking water sources.

As well, climate change is resulting in more extreme weather patterns that may result in an increased use of winter maintenance chemicals.

To help create awareness about salty situations across the province, a Salt Responsibly Sticker campaign was developed by Conservation Ontario and a small working group. More than 8,000 salt bins located in vulnerable drinking water areas will have information stickers applied to them.

“This outreach program is a great way to bring attention to the connection between the activities we do on land can have impact on our lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater” and spread the word about the importance of source water protection,” Balika said.

New education tools include social media posts and an online mapping application about the impacts of road salt across Ontario.

Drinking water protection zones are areas around municipal drinking water sources, where extra protective measures help to reduce risk and keep drinking water safe and clean. Ontario’s municipal drinking water sources include groundwater (underneath our feet in aquifers, drawn through municipal wells); and surface water (such as Great Lakes and rivers).

Drinking water source protection is one of several barriers, or ‘lines of defence,’ that help to protect drinking water in the province. Other barriers of protection include monitoring, distribution, and the Three Ts — treatment, testing and training of water operators.

Drinking water source protection is possible in Ontario through the Clean Water Act, 2006. Local source protection committees include representatives of many interests. These committees have developed source protection plans at the local level and the plans have been approved by the Province of Ontario. The source protection plans include policies that reduce risk to our municipal drinking water sources in order to keep drinking water safe and clean for Ontarians.

To learn more about drinking water source protection in Ontario, visit the Conservation Ontario source water protection webpage and the Province of Ontario source protection webpage.

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