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18th January 2023
Watershed groups urge P.E.I. to keep road salt away from waterways

The groups say road salt has an impact on amphibians, brook trout, birds, plants, soils and mammals

Nancy Russell CBC News Posted: Jan 12, 2023 2:00 AM PST Last Updated: January 12

Watershed groups on P.E.I. have created education campaigns encouraging Islanders to use less road salt and keep it out of waterways because of the impact on animals and the environment.

The Trout River Environmental Committee (TREC) launched its campaign last week, in partnership with the Wheatley River Improvement Group.

"The purpose is mostly just to raise awareness of the issue. A lot of people don't know the impacts of road salt, so we wanted to get the word out," said Shayla Steinhoff, project manager for TREC.

"We really want to highlight vulnerable areas, and identifying these vulnerable areas, and then also creating management plans for them."

Steinhoff said vulnerable areas would include water courses and wetlands areas where road salt run-off is happening, especially off major highways.

"Some mitigation measures could be creating vegetative buffers around roadways," Steinhoff said.

"Decreasing the risk of run-off directly into waterways, as well as making sure that we have good buffer zones around our streams."

Protecting wildlife

One of the examples in the campaign is the wood frog.

"That would be because of their very thin and delicate membrane, and also the amount of time they spend in the egg," Steinhoff said

"Road salt contamination can cause a number of different impacts on wood frogs, from them not being in the area, to increased mortality rates or not being able to go through metamorphosis."

Steinhoff said road salt also has an impact on brook trout, birds, plants, soils and mammals.

"Mammals can often be drawn to the roadside to consume salt and because of this they can be struck by vehicles, the biggest one here being the snowshoe hare," Steinhoff said.

Steinhoff said her group realizes that reducing the use of road salt will take time because it also keeps people safe.

"It's something we need to work on until we have better alternatives that are as cheap as road salt,"Steinhoff said

"It is also something that we wouldn't see the results for a number of years, or decades, just because of the storage of road salt contaminants in groundwater."

Tips for homeowners

The Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group has also created a social media campaign around the impacts of road salt, including tips for homeowners.

"Try shovelling first, shovelling everything you can. You might realize you don't need as much road salt," said project manager Lily McLaine.

"It's also important to just sprinkle some salt on the icy parts of your driveway, or just around your car, not the entire driveway if that's not necessary."

"We highly recommend if you live close to a stream, within 100 metres or so, to opt for using sand or a mix of sand and salt for your driveways. You can also opt for other alternatives such as sand mixes and sawdust."

P.E.I. sends an annual update to Environment and Climate Change Canada, reporting its progress on the national code of practice for the environmental management of road salts.

A spokesperson for the P.E.I. Department of Transportation said the province does have a salt management plan that is reviewed after every winter season.

"While P.E.I. does not have a formal inventory or action plan of vulnerable areas identified, we are familiar with the provincial landscape. It should also be noted that only 10 per cent of our Island road network receives road salt."

"We strive to use only the amount necessary to keep the travelling public safe. We receive road forecasts multiple times a day which helps staff determine when, and how much material should be spread."