Mar 16, 2021 3:33:09 PM / Brooke Loeffler /

Waterway Health And Winter Road Aggregates

Each year, across the country, public organizations have to ask themselves “how do we keep our roads clear of ice and snow while still protecting the environment?” These environmental concerns can include air quality, soil, vegetation, wildlife, and waterway health. Here, we will specifically look at how road maintenance choices made during the winter can have a deep impact on waterway health.

Waterway Health And Winter Road Aggregates

Waterway Health Overview

Natural waterways contain a complex network of biological, physical, and chemical systems. Most waterways can keep these systems in balance during natural fluctuations like the changes in seasons. However, large changes can alter or damage this balance beyond the waterway’s ability to recover. Let’s look at a few of the crucial elements that keep a waterway healthy.

Water Flow

Flowing currents and channels disperse nutrients and dissolved oxygen to aquatic life and limit the growth of disease causing pathogens. Most bodies of water have small pockets of calmer currents that serve as hatcheries for aquatic animals, but some amount of water flow is still needed. Water flow helps aerate the surface of the water and introduce essential oxygen.

If these currents become choked, this nutrient and oxygen delivery system stops. When water becomes stagnant, the health of the waterway is thrown out of balance. 


Aquatic plants rely upon penetrating light in order to photosynthesize. Scientists use a factor called turbidity to measure the clarity of water, and how much light can penetrate to the ecosystem below. Low turbidity levels indicate the water is free from excess sediment, and sunlight can easily penetrate to feed plants and keep harmful pathogen colonies at bay. High turbidity levels indicate the water is murky, filled with sediment, and less hospitable to aquatic plants and higher animal forms.

Now let’s learn how winter road management practices affect the balance of waterway health.

Winter Road Aggregates

Some areas use non-soluble aggregates such as sand and gravel in an attempt to increase winter road traction. Because these materials do not dissolve and dilute as snow melts, they continue to build up over the course of a winter season.

gravel vs deicer for winter road management

How Road Aggregates Pollute Waterways

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that:

unwanted sediments choke many streams and waterways, representing one of the largest pollution problems in North America.”

road aggregates and waterway health

Winter road aggregates damage waterways in a number of ways:

  • Decreases water flow velocity: reducing the flow of nutrients and dissolved oxygen that aquatic life needs in order to survive
  • Increases bed load (bottom of waterway) deposits: artificially shallowing waterways
  • Increases turbidity: more sediment suspended in the water prevents light from penetrating to aquatic plants and clogs fish gills
  • Artificially changes the shape and channel of waterways, thus altering the habitat of aquatic life even far away from the roadside
  • Binds to chemical contaminants: “chemical contamination complicates the picture even more because oils, nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic substances bind to dust and sediment and go along for the ride to pollute our streams and waterways.” (EPA)

Deicer Runoff Concerns

Unfortunately, there is no immaculate way to maintain roads during the winter. Every substance used on a road surface will enter the environment to some extent. When deicers are applied in excessive amounts, they can adversely affect waterway health as well. Let’s look at some deicing best practices to help balance road safety and waterway protection.  

Apply Deicer in Responsible Amounts

Carefully managing your application rates will not only save money and preserve resources, but reduce deicer impact on the environment. Calibrating equipment is one of the simplest ways to avoid using too much.

Research Biochemical Oxygen Demand

Some “environmentally friendly” deicers only focus on roadside vegetation, but can contain ingredients that seriously harm water health (such as reducing dissolved oxygen levels). Click here to learn which deicing ingredients affect biochemical oxygen demand so you can choose a deicer that looks at the bigger environmental picture.

Ice Slicer’s Environmental Commitment

Ice Slicer's road safety program is dedicated to helping protect lives as well as our natural environment. We are proud of our all natural, OMRI certified organic, mineral salt and how well it performs out in the field.

ice slicer protects waterway health

Harvested from a Jurassic era, deep sea mineral deposit in central Utah, Ice Slicer contains over 60 naturally occurring trace minerals. This expansive mineral profile has been field proven to enrich plant and animal life alike. Research conducted by the Idaho Transportation Department has also shown that chloride based deicers (like Ice Slicer) have minimal impact on biochemical oxygen demand in waterways.

In addition, using Ice Slicer eliminates the need to use dusty, waterway clogging road aggregates. Even without added chemicals or dyes, our deicing treatment naturally outperforms white salt so you can restore road safety while using less product. Click here to learn more about the natural high performance of Ice Slicer.