Public Works Director
Sartell (population 18,754)
In the City of Sartell, we strive to be on the forefront of innovative techniques and tactics that can help preserve the environment and promote cost-efficiency.
In 2016, our public works leaders attended a symposium that informed us of new techniques to reduce our salt usage. One technique we’ve had success with is pre-salting roads.
Many advantages to pretreating
To implement this technique, we created a pretreatment salt brine that is roughly 22% salt and 78% water. When roads are pretreated prior to snowfall it allows the salt to sit in the pores of the road as a dry material and stick.
When the snow lands on the pre-salted road, it melts and activates the salt. This eliminates slippery conditions and snow build-up, which is more difficult to remove in the future when it is packed. The pretreatment also helps salt from the snowplow to stick better to the road instead of getting knocked to the curb. This means less salt is needed after the snowfall.
Since implementing this program, we estimate that we have purchased 25% to 50% less salt. We are also saving on labor costs because our public works team often doesn’t need to go out during or after snowstorms. We think there are also cost savings to the public, as pretreating prevents accidents.
The program is also better for the environment. By reducing our salt use, we have reduced the amount of chloride in our receiving waters.
Learning as we go
As with any new program, we have learned things along the way. We started with a small number of roads to ensure it was successful and have grown the program each year. The more experience we have with the process, the better we become.
Our biggest apprehension initially was placing salt on the road prior to snowfalls, which does include a high amount of water. We worried this would make conditions worse instead of better; however, that has proven not to be the case. The water concentration allows the salt to stick in roadway pores and prevent poor conditions upon snowfall.
Expanding the program
This technique has been extremely successful. We are continuing it and adding more miles of roadway each year. We started with main arterial roads and are now planning to presalt neighborhood roads this winter.
Public Works Director
Mounds View (population 13,328)
We started working on reducing our salt usage in Mounds View over 10 years ago.
I learned from seminars I attended that reducing chloride was the way to go moving forward. The goals are to improve the safety of our roads and lower the environmental impact of the road salt getting into our water.
Early attempts unsuccessful
The city tried years ago to use salt brine and had major problems. It failed because it was gumming up the equipment. The public works staff were very frustrated because they spent time unclogging and repairing the road salting equipment.
When I first joined the city in 2010, I started pushing the public works crew to ramp up its salt-reduction efforts again by using liquids. The staff resisted this, saying, “We tried that, and it didn’t work.”
I decided what I needed to do was educate staff on the proper use of salt and applications. So, I started sending the truck operators to salt-reduction seminars and classes. They came back with a new appreciation for the idea.
We’ve tried a couple of different things. First, we tried antiicing with liquid and weren’t happy with that. We don’t have the traffic on our residential streets to get good results.
Now we are pre-wetting the salt within our augers, an idea we got from St. Louis Park. We’ve added a blue food-based dye that mixes into the brine, so that the operators can see the solution.
This technique has worked to reduce the amount of salt we’re using, but we’re still working to reduce it even more. We continue to tweak the system, increasing the amount of liquid and modifying equipment.
It’s not just the salt you’re using, it’s the operations. You want to get down to your brine as quickly as you can to have the best effect on your roads. When 2 inches of snow gets compacted, then you have to add more salt. So, while you’re reducing your overall salt you might increase man-hours plowing earlier.
Working well with other programs
The City Council has been very supportive of our efforts to reduce salt. Another city initiative — the Water Preservation Program — focuses on protecting groundwater, water conservation, and reducing discharge into the sanitary and stormwater systems. So, our salt-reduction efforts really complement that program.