Waterloo Region spends an average $3.8 million in the winter months clearing the roads, and road salt is hard to escape according to Region of Waterloo Manager of Transportation Operations Emil Marion.
"There are not many options out there that actually work and are cost effective," said Marion in an email, in part, noting that the Region has been reducing their usage as much as they can while meeting maintenance standards. "We already employ other technologies that reduce salt usage but ultimately you cannot get away from it in today's society."
A report from the World Wildlife Fund in 2019 showed "very unhealthy" amounts of chloride in local waterways from 2012-2016, which is a threat to wildlife.
"Road salt’s chloride component is toxic to species and ecosystems year-round," said the report in part. "The runoff from winter applications is affecting the creek and river habitats for species like fish, frogs and mussels – where these chloride levels endanger their survival during spawning season in the spring and summer months. The Summer Hot Spot maps reveal many urban and rural waterways in southern Ontario – including the Greater Toronto Area, Stratford, Barrie and Kitchener-Waterloo – are showing record high chloride levels. Some are even as salty as the ocean in the winter according to the data."
The map, which can be found here, shows levels during the summertime when the salt has washed into the ground and rivers.
The report also notes over 7 million tonnes of road salt is used by public agencies alone, with Waterloo Region making up roughly 50,000 tonnes of that total.
Below is a breakdown of what the different cities, townships and the Region of Waterloo are spending on road salt.
Region of Waterloo
The Region of Waterloo has spent $898,188.23 so far this year on road salt and liquid, with a three-year average of $986,068.50 from 2017 to 2019.
On average, the Region uses around 10,000 to 12,000 tonnes of road salt each year, though that fluctuates depending on how much snow falls.
That could be as high as 14,000 tonnes on a year with lots of snow.
Two of the three domes are now filled with road salt in preparation for this winter, the equivalent of around 6,000 to 7,000 tonnes.
The third dome will be be used by a private contractor for winter operations. Marion noted this is a temporary measure while the Region looks at alternatives to their current staffing model.
The Region, as mentioned, does employ some technology to reduce salt usage. That includes computerized controllers that manage the application of salt based on the speed of the truck, applying salt brine to a section of road prior to a winter event, pre-wetting dry salt which reduces usage by 20-25 per cent, and training for staff on salt management and equipment operation.
The Region subscribes to a weather service that gives three forecasts four times per day, helping make the decision of weather or not to salt the roads. That information is then given to the other local municipalities.
They also commissioning a fourth road weather information site (RWIS) to monitor road conditions and help forecast winter storms.
The City of Waterloo has a budget of $775,000 for road salt this year, $230,000 of which is for roads, or around 5,000 tonnes weather-dependent.
Last winter season, the city placed 10,100 tonnes of salt on all roads within the city, on parking lots, sidewalks, and trails.
In order to make usage more effective, the city uses Magnesium Chloride to deal with very cold conditions, making the salt effective down to minus 20 Celcius.
The city did not mention any salt-reduced alternatives being used.
The City of Cambridge has a budget of $400,000 for road salt this year between city and regional roads.
On average, they use about 6,500 tonnes of salt each winter, and will have 7,000 tonnes on hand for mid-October.
The city did not mention any salt-reduced alternatives being used.
The City of Kitchener has a budget of $760,000 for city roads, and $480,000 for salt on regional roads tis year.
On average, they use 14,000 metric tonnes of road salt, and currently have more than 2,500 metric tonnes in storage ready for use.
"As for alternative products rather than rock salt, the City uses different brine additives (salt brines) for pre-wetting and anti-icing at different temperatures," said Shawn Falcao, Manager of Corporate Communications. "Data shows a significant reduction in the quantity of rock salt required when brine additives are used at the appropriate times. Pre-wetting the rock salt, helps it to stick to the road rather than bouncing off to the curb. Using brine to anti-ice is a practice where brine is spread on roads in advance of an anticipated snowfall to prevent snow from sticking to the cold pavement and preventing snowpack. If we can prevent or delay snow from packing, we can minimize the amount of rock salt needed."
Wilmot's operating budget for 2020 is $307,000 for road salt, or 2,700 tonnes.
"Wilmot applies a salt and sand mix to our roads our roads," said Patrick Kelly, Director of Corporate Services and Treasurer for the Township of Wilmot. "Our blend of salt is Thawrox, the industry's premier deicing product, combining the performance of liquid deicing technology with proven melting effects of rock salt. This treated Salt is pre-mixed for a precise, evenly blended product that uniformly covers 100% of the rock salt.
Our priority is maintaining safe transportation networks throughout the Township, and we have not considered alternatives to our current application methodology."
The Township of North Dumfries has spent $43,261.60 on road salt this year, with a total budget for materials and supplies of $115,000.
In 2019, the township spent $125,897.47 clearing snow.
That included pickled sand, a ratio of 75 per cent winter screened sand and 25 per cent salt, as well as road salt on its own.
1,937 metric tonnes of sand were applied, along with 1,909.51 metric tonnes of road salt.
According to Andrew McNeely, CAO and Acting Director of Community Services, the township has some improvements lined up for this winter.
They'll be calibrating supply and spread rates on their fleet for a consistent and monitored flow of material, much like the Region's fleet.
"With the calibration the objective is to provide a measured flow to align with winter conditions applicable on that date when the fleet is deployed," said McNeely. "This should provide more responsive deployment of material based on weather conditions and ensure the efficient use of material in a more responsible fashion."
Wellesley Township's winter maintenance budget for materials is approximately $140,000 for 2020.
They're currently stocking up salt domes with sand and salt for the coming months, where they expect to use between 1,000 ad 1,500 metric tonnes of salt.
The townships uses a 50/50 sand/salt mixture for most of their roads.
"We have tried alternatives in the past such as pre-treated salt and it works very well, but after comparing the products we decided to continue using the 50/50 blend based on several factors including its effectiveness and environmental benefits," said Chris Cook, Director of Public Works.
The Township of Woolwich's winter maintenance budget for materials is approximately $240,000 per year, two-thirds of which is for salt and the other third for sand.
They apply a 50/50 salt/sand mixture as well when it comes to hard surface roadways, and pickled sand (less than 5 per cent salt) or ice blading done by a grader on gravel roads.
"Using these methods of application and the use of grader equipment reduces the amount of salt needed while keeping our roadway network safe," said Carter Maguire, Manager of Operations for Infrastructure Services.
"At this point in the year, our budget variance is on target, weather dependant. For the 2020 budget year, January to September 14, we have purchased 1,789 tonnes of salt. With our storage space being limited, we order material as required to ensure we have product on hand to be able to address three to four snow events only."