Salt Monitoring Initiatives

FOSC is conducting two Salt Monitoring initiatives to assess the impact of road/sidewalk salt on Sligo Creek and its tributaries (Long Branch, Wheaton Branch, Takoma Branch and others). You may have read about how the use of road salt in the winter is hurting our waterways and, because salt isn’t removed by water treatment facilities, is ultimately affecting our drinking water. The Water Quality Committee has started to do something about it…with your help!

I. FOSC SaltWatch Monitoring in the Sligo Creek watershed

Now: The winter season is underway! To learn how salt is affecting the Creek, we participate in the SaltWatch program of the Izaak Walton League. This national program uses easy-to-use test strips and the Water Reporter app to help track the impact of winter road salting and brining on local waterways.

We’re monitoring Sligo Creek salt levels because excessive salt, from roadways, parking lots and sidewalks, can impair or even kill plants, fish and other animals in our watershed. We’re interested to know what the salt levels are during the winter to compare them with salt levels throughout the year. Excessive salt use also impacts our drinking water which has been getting saltier over the last few decades. Learn more about salt through our “Uncovering the Hidden Impact of Salt” resource list on this page.

New: It’s not too late to join the team for the 2022-23 season. We are expanding the program to key spots along the entire length of Sligo, Wheaton Branch and Long Branch.

1) If you’re interested in volunteering for the 2022-23 winter season, please email [email protected]. You can learn about what’s involved in monitoring by checking out this Izaak Walton League webpage: Salt Watch FAQs. FOSC will provide the kits and further instructions, including how to report your results.

2) We’ll help guide you in selecting a stream sampling location that you can safely and consistently access, since the salt testing program calls for several visits to a location at various times before and after a winter snow or sleet event.

When you contact us, we’ll also arrange for you to get the kits you need to get started.

The data from the SaltWatch team will complement data already being collected through FOSC’s monthly chloride monitoring, and USGS’s Sligo monitoring station near Maple Avenue. These results give FOSC, the Izaak Walton League, Montgomery County, and the state of Maryland a better picture of how road salt application affects streams like Sligo Creek and its tributaries.

To the 2021-22 volunteers: Thanks for all your work! We are compiling the results into a single database, and have some basic numbers and findings in Section III, below.

II. Reporting Excessive Road/Sidewalk Salt in the Sligo Watershed

To help reduce the amount of salt entering Sligo Creek, we’re continuing the FOSC reporting program for excessive road or sidewalk salt “piles” (such as the piles shown in the photos at the bottom of the page) in the Sligo watershed.

If you see an excessive amount of salt on a roadway, parking lot, or sidewalk, please email [email protected] with a photo and the day, time, and location of the salt pile. We will try to get the County, State or responsible party to remove excessive salt piles before they go into Sligo Creek. View the watershed map on the Maps of Sligo Creek page.

III. Data Reporting for salt testing results

Salt Watch results for Sligo Creek winter 2021-22

Last year’s results for Sligo Creek and other local testing sites Winter 21/22 Courtesy of the Izaak Walton League

In the Washington region overall, the Izaak Walton League reports that Salt Watch testing results from 2021/22 showed 34% of streams had chloride at levels considered toxic to wildlife. Across the eastern and midwest US, 18% tested at that level.

Along Sligo and Long Branch, the average chloride levels at 14 test sites ranged from 216ppm to 507ppm, though FOSC volunteers’ data show individual readings as high as 860ppm.

IV. Advocate for Brining of Roadways

Let County Executive Marc Elrich and Director of MCDOT Christopher Conklin know that you support brining of roadways. Brining is as effective as rock salt for deicing but, because of the way it is applied, uses ~60% less salt than a roadway treated with rock salt. It would help protect wildlife in the watershed and county-wide, and save money too.

The IWLA is providing the test kits for the FOSC salt monitoring initiative. Thank you, IWLA!

The Winter Salt Watch logo of the Izaak Walton League of America
A set of excessive salt piles at Dallas Ave. near Sligo Creek.

Excessive salt piles at Dallas Ave near Sligo Creek

Large salt piles in a Dallas Ave intersection close to Sligo Creek. DOT removed them shortly after the FOSC Section Steward reported them.

An excessive road salt pile on a local roadway

A local salt pile, courtesy of J. Galella at UMD

Road salt sprinkled on snow-cleared roadway

Road salt sprinkled on snow-cleared roadway

Be SaltWise!

2023 MoCo DEP/WSSC
SaltWise Guidance

One mug of salt will treat a 20′ driveway or 10 sidewalk squares

A blue mug sitting on a large pile of salt in the Montgomery County salt depot. The mug is part of the awareness campaign to reduce use of salt in order to protect our waterways.

The FOSC Water Quality team has rounded up these three handy salt use resources:

  • For the status of salting/brining in your area, see the Montgomery County Winter Storm Information Portal – shows MCDOT’s latest storm management actions.

Ready soon: the Salt Monitoring Results page with the 2022 Sligo testing results.

IWLA Salt Kit - Guidance for Volunteer Salt Monitoring V2