Balancing safety and ecology: One Ocean Scuba participates in a citizen science project monitoring road salt

Cynthia Rosselle   Jan 23, 2024

This winter, the staff at One Ocean Scuba has been participating in the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) Salt Watch Program. Learn more about this valuable project to protect our waterways and find out how you can participate, too!

Road salt is necessary during winter as it keeps us safe on the roadways and walkways during winter weather events. However, road salt harms fish and other critters in our local waters because they are susceptible to changes in the water quality. Excessive salinity levels can lead to psychological stress, impact reproduction, and affect their osmoregulation, harming the balance of fluids within their bodies.

Friends of Sligo Creek (FOSC) introduced the One Ocean Scuba team to the Salt Watch program. Salt Watch is a program that was launched by the IWLA when a Fellow noticed that a pile of road salt was about to enter Muddy Branch in Gaithersburg. Muddy Branch feeds into the Potomac River. This program arms citizen scientists with testing kits, allowing them to gather and report data about the state of our local waters.

Thousands of volunteers across 24 states now monitor local storm ponds and enter real-time data about chloride levels nationwide. Before the first weather event of the season, the One Ocean Scuba team tested our local storm pond in Kemp Mill to get a baseline salinity reading. During winter events, we test to see how much chloride levels have risen. This data is entered into the Clean Water Hub to raise awareness and create meaningful behavior change.

What can you do? Join us as a citizen scientist to visit the storm pond and conduct the salinity test. It’s quick and easy, and we would love to teach you how to collect and report this data. If you live along the Sligo Creek Watershed, you can reach out to FOSC and volunteer with them, or if you are in a different watershed, you can get test kits directly from the Izaak Walton League of America.

Another meaningful way to make a difference is to use only the amount of salt necessary to keep your walkways and driveways safe. The IWLA recommends the Shovel Scatter, Sweep, Repeat method. Do this by clearing snow before it can turn to ice and scatter the salt – a little goes a long way! When it is safe, sweep up the excess salt and reuse it during the following winter event.

Learn more about these organizations and the great work they’re doing: