Last weekend gave the area where The Curmudgeon lives its first taste of snow of the season – barely more than a dusting in some places but still, it was white, it was wet, and it was a little slippery. The same thing happened yesterday.
Those of us who live in areas where it snows are accustomed to seeing their roads salted. That salt, the people who pay attention to such things tell us, soaks into the ground and into groundwater and into rivers, raising chloride levels and sometimes making our drinking water both unpalatable and unhealthy while also threatening aquatic life, fisheries, irrigation, and recreation.
Over the past decade or two many places have taken to “brining” their roads – an unfortunately verbification that refers to a process of applying a brine solution of 23 percent salt and 77 percent water to roads when the forecast calls for snow. The purpose of the brine is to help the salt adhere better to the road, enabling towns to use less salt – generally, about 30 percent less than what they would have needed without the brine. It saves money, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for the health of the locals whose drinking water can be affected by the introduction of too much salt into their water source. Last weekend The Curmudgeon didn’t even realize anyone was taking seriously the minor snowfall that was in the forecast until he saw the tell-tale sign of brine lines on the roads while running his Saturday morning errands.
While brine is an improvement over rock salt it still has salt in it, so towns are continually experimenting with other ways to make salt adhere better to their roads and enable them to treat the roads with less salt. You may remember towns using sand, but they stopped doing that when they found that it clogged storm pipes. According to the Stateline web site, some towns have been mixing other substances into their brine.
Like cheese residue (a Wisconsin specialty, not surprisingly).
Sugar cane molasses. (“It’s like putting Coca-Cola down. It’s sugar and it’s sticky,” one city’s public services director explains.)
Dregs from beer-making. (“Bingo!” many will no doubt declare.)
The Curmudgeon doesn’t know if these alternative materials will work, but on the other hand, if you find yourself stranded in a snowstorm with nothing to eat or drink…