MADISON, Wis. - This winter has demanded more salt than most. Over the course of this season, Madison plows and salt trucks have been out treating the roads 58 times compared with 34 times last year.
Chris Kelley with the Madison Streets Division said this winter, in one word, has been brutal.
"They've been smaller events, which means you use a little bit more salt than normal," Kelley said.
That only adds to growing concerns about that salt's effect on the surface water and well water in Madison.
Steve Fix, the chairman of Madison's Committee on the Environment, has watched levels of sodium and chloride rise in the city's water supply over the years.
"The levels are still way below the federal requirements where the city would have to take action," Fix said.
Still, Fix said if the trend continues, it could be a problem.
According to data presented to the committee Monday, the amount of sodium and chloride in city water is increasing.
At well 14 off University Avenue, Joe Grande with Madison Water Utility has watched chloride levels double over the past 15 years. Grande said it would take another 15 to 20 years for those levels to be truly problematic. However, the water is close to what is considered questionable for people with sodium restrictive diets to consume, according to national standards. If it reached that level, Grande said the city would have to take some sort of action.
Fix said any reactive measure, like well water treatments, would be expensive. Grande added they can be wasteful as well.
"We may have to start rethinking whether we want bare streets after, particularly major streets, after snow storms," Fix said. "That's something that will have to be discussed."
The committee also discussed the possibility of regulating how much salt private companies can put on parking lots and thoroughfares that aren't maintained by the city or county. Kelley expressed concern with how much salt those businesses use that isn't necessary.
Grande said public health officials, utility workers and city and county representatives are looking at ways to limit the impact of road treatments on the problematic well off of University Avenue. He said the group will consider alternative ways to de-ice the roads and make them safe without so much salt application.
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