Salt Impacts

The issue of rising chloride (salt) levels, and related impacts on Ontario’s lakes and rivers is a topic of concern for FOCA.

Salt is accumulating in the environment and poses an emerging threat both to ecosystems and human health.

Once introduced into an ecosystem, salt can become a persistent problem, since there are really no biological processes that will remove it. Reducing the amount of salt entering waterways is an important way to protect our aquatic ecosystems.

Recent Resources:

Conservation Ontario has created a “Salt Responsibly Story Map” which is full of relevant and helpful information. (source of the image at the side)

Watersheds Canada has released a Road Salt Policy Review (download PDF, 18 pages) about different government policies that apply in Ontario and across Canada.

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Nov. 26, 2023 – Reducing road salt use ‘not something that can wait’ as Ontario lakes see oxygen depletion, researcher says (CBC News) – Waterloo region’s salt philosophy is ‘applying the right amount in the right area,’ manager says

October 2023 – FOCA is supporting the industry effort to press for limited liability for private winter maintenance contractors, based on operator certification and ultimately lower salt application practices. Learn more:

To this end, FOCA participated with over 100 interested parties who gathered at the offices of Landscape Ontario to discuss salt issues: from ecological implications, to infrastructure decline, to safety and liability concerns. FOCA will continue to support the efforts of our partners in academia, industry, and environmental non-governmental organizations to make the case for action to reduce the impact of salt in our precious freshwaters, and of course through our monitoring and tracking of chloride levels in our waterbodies, via the Lake Partner Program (download PDF, 43 pages; see page 9 re: chloride). 

Since 2020 FOCA has been consulting with the Freshwater Roundtable (FR), a group formed initially in 2019 to deal with Lake Simcoe and their growing salt issue. The members of this group include Lake Simcoe Conservation, Toronto and Region Conservation, Ministry of Environment and Parks, Conservation Ontario, Building Owners and Managers Association Toronto, Landscape Ontario, and the Smart about Salt Coalition.

The group was formed to work on a number of initiatives directed at reducing salt application primarily by private maintenance companies, and the public, since many of the challenges with oversalting relate to property maintenance liability and slip-and-fall insurance claims.

image: Dr. Shelley Arnott (see “Your Role” below)

Efforts are underway to develop a national standard for snow operations, to provide a much-needed benchmark for property maintenance, when it comes to salt and insurance claims. Download a copy of the FR Roundtable 2020 Discussion Paper (PDF, 17 pages)

In January 2022, FOCA and some of these partners met with the Ontario Attorney General about the growing problem of increased and runaway insurance costs for snow removal companies. At this meeting, FOCA pointed out that this has negatively impacted many of our rural road groups who are struggling to find affordable winter road maintenance contractors, in the face of escalating insurance costs. Winter road maintenance ensures access to rural homes for medial and other emergencies, rural services, and the ability to travel for work. The Attorney General was receptive to the topic, but has not been forthcoming with a practical liability cap or other protections, but is instead waiting to see the impact, if any, from Bill 118, the Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act, 2020

Learn more about the impact of salt on freshwater systems from FOCA and our partners, and take steps to reduce salt contamination on your own property. Consult the resources below.

The images above are reproduced from a slide presentation by Dr. Shelley Arnott in 2020, about salt impacts on freshwater. FOCA Members & Friends of FOCA are encouraged to login below to access the full set of slides!

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Drinking Water Source Protection – Salt Responsibility – This story map from Conservation Ontario provides information, science and actions that the public can take to improve our current salty situation. 

Learn more about winter salt from Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.

The Smart About Salt Council is a not-for-profit organization which offers training to improve winter salting practices, recognizes industry leaders through certification, and provides resources to help ensure that the right de-icing product is used, at the right time, and in the right way. Their mission is to protect freshwater from winter salt applied on facilities.

image: “Sand as a traction aid” is from the Salt Responsibly webpage

Please note: the following is archival material, and some links to third-party resources may no longer be active.

January, 2023 – Documenting the impacts of increasing salinity in freshwater and coastal ecosystems (Limnology and Oceanography Letters Feb. 2023) Dr. Stephanie Melles et al. They found increasing salinity to be linked with reductions in species and lower zooplankton abundance, and conclude that impacts will be compounded by changes in climate.

February 14, 2022 – Salt contamination of Lake Simcoe a frightening warning about highway expansion – Lake Simcoe is on a trajectory to reach toxic levels of salt in 37 years if current patterns (Toronto Star)

December 21, 2021 – Road Salt in Cities Shows Links to Saltier Water ( – “Separate studies in Ontario and Ohio suggest that increasing urbanization over the past 40 years has been a driving factor in freshwater rivers getting saltier.”

November 2021 – Salt Impacts on Lakes: webinar from New Hampshire Lakes: (Homeowner tips start around minute 42:30 of the recording.)

October 14, 2021 – Sustainable Salt Management Resource Hub (Partners in Project Green)

April 1, 2021 – Study Shows Winter Road Salt Poses Year-Round Threat to Aquatic Life (WaterCanada)

June 19, 2019 – Chloride maps show devastating effects of road salt. Yes, even in summer (WWF)

January 2019 – Shaking Ontario’s Addiction to Road Salt (Auditor General of Ontario)

December 24, 2018 –The price of salt: How road salts are affecting our Great Lakes (Ontario Waterkeeper)

December 11, 2018 – How Road Salt Harms the Environment (Columbia University)

October 25, 2018 – Setting a Provincial Water Quality Objective for Chlorides (a letter from CELA to MECP)

November 30, 2017 – Time to embrace a difficult conversation – reducing road salts use in Ontario (CELA)

April 12, 2017 – Road salt poses threat to freshwater lakes in parts of North America: study (CP)

May 2011 – Increasing chloride concentrations in Lake Simcoe and its tributaries (Research Gate, Winter et al)

For more about water quality impacts of chloride and other parameters, visit FOCA’s Lake Partner Program webpage.