Your choice of de-icers today can impact our Northern Michigan waters tomorrow.

The first flakes of snow have begun to fall in Northern Michigan and soon the phones at Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council will be ringing with inquiries about which de-icer  is the best to use on our sidewalks and driveways. Unfortunately, the best de-icer with the least impact on our rivers, lakes, and streams is still the non-chemical back-breaking solution… the snow shovel.  However, if you choose to use a de-icer, its proper use can reduce your impact on the environment and ease your battle with snow and ice.

The most commonly used de-icer is sodium chloride (rock salt). Although sodium chloride may be inexpensive, it comes with a high price tag for the environment.  “As part of our Comprehensive Water Quality Monitoring Program, we monitor chloride in lakes and rivers throughout the area” said Kevin Cronk, Monitoring and Research Coordinator for Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.

“Almost all of the lakes monitored in our service area during the last 25 years have shown increased chloride concentrations several times greater than naturally occurring levels. While concentrations of the monitored bodies of water are currently below the toxic threshold, increased concentrations can stress aquatic ecosystems particularly in smaller streams and lakes where concentrations can be higher.”

De-icers have a different combination of performance, cost and impacts, suggesting that different de-icers may be appropriate for different climatic regimes in the country.  While there are potentially many more “environmentally-friendly” products available, experts recommend using calcium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), which are more costly than sodium chloride but may be less environmentally harmful to sensitive Northern Michigan ecosystems.

Take note of the label of contents and keep current on the de-icing products on the market,” suggests Jennifer Gelb, Restoration Ecologist at the Watershed Council.  “New and improved alternatives are continually being introduced. Look for a different de-icer that will perform as well or better than your current product, but without the negative impacts.”

Gelb stresses the importance of avoiding over-application and encourages strictly following application guidelines.

“Where appropriate, apply sand or other abrasive along with a de-icing agent to help traction and reduce the amount of de-icer necessary.  Additionally, keep de-icers, and other loose materials from inadvertently entering surface waters by using vegetation buffers. Also, clean up or redistribute piles of accumulated deicers, sand and kitty litters.”

“Safer de-icing chemicals cost more than salt or sand, but instead of dwelling on spending more money, focus on what you’re saving.”

Remember that anything that you put down on steps, sidewalk or driveway today impacts the health of our rivers, lakes and streams tomorrow.

Learn more about Northern Michigan ecosystems at MyNorth Outdoors.