Photo: Brandi Redd
Most Edmontonians have by now accepted that a White Christmas may not come until next year. Although many of us will miss it, the flip side is that the City of Edmonton will use less of its new liquid salt spray on our roadways this holiday season.
Anything that goes on our roads, of course, also enters our river. Unfortunately, chlorides are well-documented toxins in aquatic environments and the practice has concerning implications for the health of the North Saskatchewan River and the fish that call it home.
We wrote about this earlier in the year following the approval of the current pilot program, which has now begun spraying 40% of Edmonton’s roadways as well as the downtown bike lanes. However road salting is managed, there is always a need to carefully assess the impact to freshwater environments and as the program is piloted, it is not clear that these impacts are being quantified. City Councillors requested at the spring meeting that administration ensure this monitoring take place and we are hopeful that these concerns will be taken seriously.
In order to determine the best road-clearing strategies moving forward, it is necessary to assess the impacts of the historical management practices and compare them to the impacts of the pilot project as well as alternatives – including the mandatory use of winter tires (an alternative that not only reduces the contamination of freshwater and avoids premature rust to vehicles and infrastructure, but also reduces collisions by 5% and deaths and serious injuries by 3%).
North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper would like to see a comprehensive assessment that not only considers the costs and effectiveness of these practices as was done in the City’s report earlier this year, but also the environmental impacts. In addition, to better support this assessment the remainder of the pilot program should include a coordinated approach to the direct measurement of chlorides entering the river through stormwater outfalls using the monitoring equipment already installed on drainage infrastructure.
The City indicated earlier this year that there will be opportunities for public and stakeholder engagement over the course of the winter and into next summer prior to a decision about the future of the Edmonton’s road-clearing strategies. Watch for information about these processes as well as a subsequent blog post in the new year that will go into greater depth about the impacts of road-salting on aquatic ecosystems.
In the meantime, enjoy a snow-free Christmas and know that if the fish are sharing in the festivities, it may have something to do with a breath of freshwater in between snowfalls and road-salting. Of course, it may also just be the time of year. Stay tuned and have a very Merry Christmas!