winter storm drainsmtIt is cold outside. More than ever, your water needs protecting! Water can get polluted easily in the winter months especially from using snow and ice removal products incorrectly. Snow and ice melting products, known as de-icers, can have negative environmental impacts when melted snow and ice carry the harsh chemicals to our ditches, streams and rivers. Overuse of certain products, such as salts, can also damage driveways and vehicles and can be a hazard for pets and children. Not all de-icing products are equal in terms of cost, environmental impact or effectiveness either. Here are some simple suggestions of how to properly use de-icers and protect our waterways.

1. Shovel early, shovel often. De-icers work best when there is only a thin layer of snow or ice that to melt. Remove as much snow as you can during the storm. Use a hoe or other tool to scrape off ice from the surface before de-icers are applied.

2. If you have a chronic problem with ice forming, determine the source and divert the melting snow away from your sidewalks and driveways to an area where the ice won’t be a problem. 

3. Shovel early in the day, the sun will warm the surface and help melt new snow and prevent the need for de-icers.

4. Shovel before you drive a vehicle on the driveway to reduce packed snow that can turn icy.

5. Limit the use of de-icers, especially those with the most negative impacts to be used only when needed.

6. Make sure to purchase your deicing product well before the storm hits. Otherwise, you will be looking at empty shelves, and have few, if any environmentally friendly choices to make at the store. 

7. Many de-icers will not work in extremely low temperatures. Make sure you are getting the correct product for the situation.

8. Do not use fertilizers for snow and ice removal. Fertilizers are very poor at ice melting and removal and melting and increase nutrient runoff to nearby streams. 

9. Do not try to use sand to melt snow or ice. It will only increase traction, which can be very helpful in certain situations.

Remember that when the snow and ice melt, it carries everything in to the nearest ditch or stream often via storm drains. The chemicals you pour on your sidewalks can have detrimental effects on nearby plants, animals and water systems. Think carefully about nearby kids, pets and landscaping when using de-icing products. Keep your own safety in mind. Our waterways are our drinking sources. Your rivers will thank you when the snow and ice melts. 

Information provided by Snow, Road, Salt and the Chesapeake Bay by Tom Shuler, Center for Watershed Protection. For more information, check out this article about de-icing.