Sudbury city engineer says salt levels in Ramsey Lake 'kind of levelling out'

A drainage engineer with the city of Greater Sudbury says to better understand the issue of rising salt levels in Ramsey Lake, you have to take a shorter view of the data.

Paul Javor says fewer roads are salted now than 10 years ago, city stretching salt use with brine, new tools

A Sudbury water stewardship group blames the city's salt trucks as salt levels in Lake Ramsey and others continue to climb. But an engineer with Greater Sudbury says city efforts to cut road salt use over the last decade or so have been helping to level off the rise. (Submitted)

A drainage engineer with the city of Greater Sudbury says to better understand the issue of rising salt levels in Ramsey Lake, you have to take a shorter view of the data. 

CBC news reported last week that the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, a group of scientists and concerned citizens, is worried about the amount of salt and chloride now in Ramsey Lake and beyond. 

The group pointed straight at city salt trucks as a big factor in the ongoing rise.

Paul Javor, a drainage engineer and self-styled "stormwater guy" with the city, said there's no doubt that Sudbury's water has become increasingly salinated over the years. 

For him, it's a question of what the levels look like since the city started to make changes to its road salting practices.

Paul Javor is a drainage engineer with the City of Greater Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC)

"In the long-term projection, [the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance is] looking at data from the 90s until relatively recently, and there's certainly an upward trend," he said. 

"[But] if we looked at the data kind of going forward kind of from 2010, we're seeing that salt levels are kind of levelling out within Ramsey Lake, and similarly, chloride levels are as well." 

Javor said about a decade ago, the city stopped salting most local and side roads, partly as a cost-saving measure, since salt is pricier than sand. 

Now, fewer than 25 per cent of Sudbury roads get salt at all. 

Javor said to maximize the road salt the city actually does put down, it has also started making it's own brine.

"[That's] a pre-wetting agent that we use to help salt stick to the asphalt, which helps us use less salt," Javor explained.

Another change: Javor said the city doesn't salt as often as it once did during a single winter storm. Now, it salts once, and then roads get sand after that. Javor said it's an effort to keep salt from simply being plowed off the road with each pass of a plow.

Competing interests

While the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance decries the use of any road salt, calling for alternatives like other phosphates or nothing at all, Javor said the city has an obligation to balance environmental stewardship with road safety; a tension that he said plays out at every level. 

"I've seen it between two neighbours. One neighbour wants his lakeside, you know, 'make sure there's no salt remotely in my area,' and the other neighbour puts the salt to it.

Javor said another part of the salt contamination issue comes down to private and commercial salt use. He said he'd like to see more public education about putting salt down in the slippery winter months. 

According to the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, which analyzes municipal and provincial water testing results to monitor water health in Sudbury, Ramsey Lake's "sodium levels are approaching three times the level at which the Medical Officer of Health must be notified so patients on sodium-restricted diets can be alerted; and chloride levels are rapidly approaching a level that can harm aquatic life." (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)


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