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Curbing salt use to protect our freshwater resources

In Wisconsin, we rely on salt to keep our roads, driveways and sidewalks safe in the winter and to soften the water in our homes on a daily basis. But our heavy salt use comes with a cost: excess chloride in our waters.

The Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment plant receives 220,000 pounds of salt per day; this is equal to three semi-trailers or 5,500 40-pound bags of water softener salt daily! Unfortunately, the treatment plant isn’t designed to remove dissolved salt from water. So chloride, a component of salt, passes through the treatment plant into the freshwater streams we discharge to.

In addition to water softener salt, overuse of road and sidewalk salt can ultimately infiltrate into our lakes, streams and groundwater and make them salty. At high enough levels, excess chloride from salt can threaten freshwater plants and animals, which can’t tolerate salt water.

One teaspoon of salt can permanently pollute 5 gallons of water. Once chloride is in the water, there is no easy way to remove it.

We all play a role in salt reduction

While it’s easy to add salt to water, it’s costly and energy-intensive to remove it. In 2015, the District completed a chloride compliance study that looked at sources and potential treatment options. At that time, the study showed it would cost over $400 million to add chloride-reduction technology to the treatment plant, which would result in higher sewer bills for all users.

Fortunately, there is another way. Rather than adding costly treatment to protect our freshwater, we can more cost-effectively reduce salt use at the source. Through the collective actions of residents, businesses, salt professionals and others, we help reduce the amount of salt that ends up in our water.

How you can help

Washing Hands

For residents

Learn about water softener efficiency and hard water in your home.

Chloride Business

For businesses

Read salt reduction success stories and learn more about available grants.

Road Salt

For road salt applicators

Get information on actions you can take to keep road salt out of local waters.

Chloride Resident

For water softener professionals

Find training and resources to help you help your customers reduce salt use.

Watch this episode of Building Wisconsin TV to learn how we can all help solve the problem of to much salt going into freshwater streams from water softeners. Hear from District pollution prevention manager Kathy Lake, Allison Madison from WI Salt Wise, Steve Breitlow and Cory Thompson from Plumbers Local 75 and others for tips on how a water softener works, how they’re repaired and when they should be replaced.

Other resources

Chloride Pollutant Minimization Program Report

A Pollutant Minimization Program (PMP) annual report outlining 2023 District chloride reduction efforts.

Water Softener Optimization Study

A 2015 study by the District investigated how water softener optimization can aid wastewater utilities in chloride discharge limits.

Chloride Compliance Study

This 2015 study provides information on chloride sources to the plant, options for compliance, and the costs of compliance options.

Chloride Source Reduction Compliance Plan

A 2019 recap of the District’s chloride reduction program’s first variance term and a vision for the second variance term.

Close up of large water softener salt pellets for Salt Savers professionals resources.

Salt Savers Pilot Program

The aim of the Salt Savers pilot program was to improve water softener efficiency, with the goal of reducing chloride entering the sewer system in McFarland, Town of Dunn and the Pleasant Spring Sanitary District.