In Canada, excessive road salt use is a principal threat to the health of our freshwater resources. In fact, in 2001, the Government of Canada found that almost 5 million tonnes of road salt are used each year, mostly in Ontario and Québec. It is spread on roads, sidewalks, and parking lots that all drain into our rivers and lakes as a result of runoff. There, chloride, the main toxic element, can accumulate and severely harm the balance of aquatic ecosystems.

As part of Quebec’s Regional support program for water issues (PSREE), the Agence du Bassin Versant des 7 has launched a new study on the use of road salt in the Outaouais region to monitor road salt usage and ensure the protection of aquatic and riparian ecosystems.

An undertaking such as this requires collective action. For that reason, ABV des 7 has enlisted organizations with strengths in watershed management, citizen science and communications (Ottawa Riverkeeper), local stewardship and sampling volunteers (Friends of the Gatineau River), and advocacy (La Pêche Coalition for a Green New Deal). Drawing on the expertise of each organization will lead to concrete actions that positively affect the environment now and in the future.

In the winter of 2019-2020, Ottawa Riverkeeper piloted a community-based monitoring project to learn if chloride concentrations in Ottawa and Gatineau creeks are reaching levels that pose a threat to aquatic environments as a consequence of road salt use. A recently released report compiles the results of that pilot project. In many locations, chloride concentrations were well above safe levels. The report makes the case for continued monitoring and the expansion of the program in subsequent years.

For 2021, this new project has built upon our pilot throughout the Ottawa-Gatineau area and expanded it further throughout the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais to include several creeks of the Gatineau River.

The project is  divided it into three phases  a literature review and survey to the municipalities of the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais to gain a regional understanding of road salt management, sampling specific water bodies in the MRC to measure road salt’s impact, and creating awareness-raising tools for municipalities and businesses.