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Tuesday, 23 December 2014 10:02

Protecting water quality during the winter

Beach season has become a memory, and our canoes and docks have been packed away. Most of us, except for a few brave winter anglers, will not do much on our lakes and rivers until the weather becomes much warmer. This doesn't mean that we should stop thinking about our water resource. During the wintertime, it is important to remember our role as water stewards. Whether you live in the country, on a farm, in town, or on the shoreline, each of us is responsible for protecting our water quality all year round.

Two things that we can all do to protect water quality during the winter months are to follow appropriate ice management practices and prevent erosion during snow melt.

Dealing with ice

When managing icy surfaces on your property, one of the biggest concerns is the application of salt and salt-alternative de-icers. These products, whether they contain salt or salt alternatives, have the potential to be a water contaminant - even some that are labelled 'eco-friendly.'

Anything we put on the ground can be picked up by run-off and carried into our lakes and rivers. This is why, if you must use a de-icing product, it is important to research and chose one that has the least harmful ingredients, along with minimizing the use of de-icers where appropriate.

Here are some tips to help minimize de-icers:

  • Avoid de-icing surfaces unnecessarily - if nobody will be venturing onto a surface, there is no need to apply de-icer.
  • Remove snow diligently - to the best of your ability, remove snow and slush from surfaces as soon as it falls, this will minimize the need for de-icing when the temperature drops.
  • Scatter birdseed or sand - this won't melt the ice but will provide some traction.
  • Don't over apply - follow the recommendations on your de-icer packaging, then use a shovel or plow to remove the loosened ice and snow.
  • Consider removing impermeable surfaces from your property - this is a project to consider when preparing your property for next winter. If a surface is permeable, there is less opportunity for water to pool and later freeze. Consider replacing impermeable, paved surfaces with plants, gravel, permeable pavers, grid systems, or permeable pavement.

Preventing erosion

Erosion can occur during snowmelt and when there are higher water levels along water courses. Whenever erosion occurs, soil, dirt, and other material flow overland and into storm drains. Eventually, the material can flow into local lakes and rivers. You can help keep sediments and the nutrients they contain out of storm drains by preventing erosion on your property.

The winter and early spring months are a great time to closely observe your property. Does erosion occur anywhere when snow melts or when water levels fluctuate? Now is the time to take notes, and begin creating a plan to improve your property and prevent future erosion.

Your plan may simply involve the addition of plants with deep, substantial roots to the areas experiencing erosion. These plants will help slow down water and hold sediments and soils in place. Native grasses, such as Bottlebrush, Canada Wild Rye, and Indiangrass, are excellent choices for erosion control.

For more stewardship tips, see the Landowner Guide to Protecting Water Quality in the Kawarthas.