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Storm Aftermath: Road Salt Finds Its Way Into Md. Waterways

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — First comes snow, then comes salt. But unlike snow, that salt doesn’t go away.

Alex DeMetrick reports it’s moving right now into our water, and it will stay there for decades.

It was only a week ago when the struggle to keep moving fell to the frontline efforts of hundreds of trucks, plowing and spreading tons of salt on Maryland roads.

But now, warmer temperatures and rain are producing a melt that’s carrying far more salty water than usual into freshwater.

“Where the animals that live in the freshwater streams just aren’t equipped, aren’t adapted to getting rid of the excess salt in their bodies,” said Scott Stranko, DNR biologist.

So state biologists will closely monitor animals like salamanders because…

“If there’s too much salt, it could kill it,” said Stranko.

It’s not just animals. Plants are also vulnerable. So are people.

“It can soak into the groundwater. We see issues where salt has contaminated some shallow water drinking wells and it can be a problem,” said Dr. Robert Summers, Sec. Md. Dept. of Environment.

Once in, salt can build up over decades in reservoirs vital to life in Maryland.

“Over the last 30 years, the levels have doubled in Loch Raven Reservoir. So it’s working its way up and we need to deal with it,” Summers said.

Finding ways of reducing the amount of salt being used is critical because dealing with it now is going to be cheaper than removing it later.

“The treatment systems that we have for salt are very expensive. So we really need to get at this problem by limiting the amount of salt we put down on the ground and managing our stormwater,” said Summers.

Other states have been studying the impact of road salt longer than Maryland. Minnesota, with harsh winters and 10,000 lakes, has found that up to 70 percent of the salt applied makes its way into its watershed.

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