Lake experts, city crews encouraging community to use less salt in an effort to help environment

MADISON, Wis. – City and county snow plow crews are constantly trying to find a balance between using enough salt to keep the streets safe, but not enough to do more harm to the environment.

This weekend’s snow combined with rain in the forecast this week could wash a lot of the salt on the sidewalks and roads into Madison’s lakes.

“We put about 500 tons (of salt) a year into Lake Mendota in an average winter. It’s gone from a background concentration of 1 mg of salt per liter to about 50, so it’s about 50 times higher than it was back in the 1940s,” said Hilary Dugan, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and limnologist.

While local municipalities have been working to limit their salt usage, there’s still a push to get homeowners and private contractors to understand the environmental effects of using too much salt.

“Basically for your entire driveway you probably should only be using a cup of salt, so a coffee mug of salt. And you should be doing one scoop and applying it to your whole driveway versus taking a bag and throwing it all down,” said Dugan.

Dugan created #OverSaltingContest to bring awareness to the big chunks of salt being put on roadways and sidewalks that eventually end up in our water ways.

“When we have these big chunks, really all they’re being effective at is polluting our water,” said Dugan.

The city of Madison Streets Division has been doing their part to limit salt use.

“When we put salt down, it’s going to be at a maximum of 300 lbs per lane mile. So, if you imagine six 50 gallon bags of salt, that’s what’s going to be per mile of traffic lane, we’ll put down at most,” said Bryan Johnson with the Streets Division.

Johnson said it’s difficult to find a balance between keeping ice off the roads and keeping our lakes clean.

“People have expectations to be able to drive where they need to go without really being encumbered by the weather conditions. And the only real tool we have in the tool box is salt, which is unfortunate,” said Johnson.

The city of Madison is also hosting a salt certification training for both its street crews and private contractors.

Since the program’s development in 2017, 74 private employees and 468 public employees have been trained to understand salt’s impacts and responsibly use salt.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to be environmentally conscious while salting, visit