Environment

Managing Salt Pollution to Protect Drinking Water Resources and Freshwater Ecosystems

Just like too much dietary salt is bad for blood pressure, too much salt in our nation’s streams, lakes, and reservoirs threatens ecosystem health and the security of our nation’s drinking water and food supplies.

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“Salt levels are rising fast in freshwaters across the United States,” said Stanley Grant, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering and the principal investigator of a recent multimillion dollar grant from the National Science Foundation aimed at addressing the issue. “It’s a slow-moving train wreck. If we don’t figure out how to reverse this trend soon, it could become one of our nation’s top environmental challenges going forward.”

Typical culprits include excessive de-icer use on roads and parking lots during the winter, as well as the discharge of industrial and municipal wastewaters. But putting our nation on a salt diet will not be easy.

“Reversing freshwater salinization will require changing the way we design and operate our engineered infrastructure, but also changing the everyday choices we all make, from which home products we use, such as detergents, to how much salt to sprinkle on our icy driveway,” said Sujay Kaushal, a co-principal investigator on the NSF grant at the University of Maryland and an international expert on freshwater salinization. “It’s going to require finding new ways to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries - and across the traditional academic/practitioner divide.”

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