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Bloomington Jefferson welcomed Bailey Hadnott, Wastewater Engineer from Barr Engineering to speak to their classes in mid-December. Since (we assumed) winter was upon us, the topic of discussion was the impacts of salt (chloride) pollution on our water, infrastructure, and livelihood.

Salt is a natural part of the environment, but humans have dramatically increased the amount of salt in our environment through practices like salting roads and sidewalks to prevent ice from forming. Salting during the winter is an effective way to keep people safe, however, many people overestimate how much salt is actually needed to work effectively. The result is that unnecessary amounts of salt are spread across our city, and most of that salt makes its way into our freshwater resources. 

All of this excess salt causes a number of problems for humans and animals alike. Due to salt’s solubility in water, it requires an incredible amount of energy to remove it from water.  Most drinking water filtration plants and wastewater treatment plants do not have the equipment necessary to remove salt, so once salt is in the water it is unlikely to be filtered out. Consequently, our natural waters are becoming saltier, which causes great harm to freshwater organisms, and our drinking water is becoming saltier, which can lead to long term health effects like hypertension and kidney damage. On top of that, salt water is corrosive, and degrades infrastructure like plumbing, bridges, and roads. As pipes corrode they can release lead and other toxic metals into the water, like Flint, MI experienced in 2018.

Reducing and avoiding the ill effects of salt water requires us to reduce the amount of salt we spread across our cities and towns. The good news is that lower amounts of salt are still effective at eliminating ice from forming. Please check out the graphic below for proper salting practices.

Let me end this with a big thank you to Bailey for sharing her expertise and preparing students with the knowledge necessary to make decisions that reduce their impact on water quality.

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In early December, River Watch, in partnership with the South High School All Nations program and MIGIZI, took on the challenge of cleaning up a freshwater creek at the Mound Springs Park in Bloomington, MN. South High Instructor, Carmen Gavin-Vanegas, discovered this polluted stream while on a walk with her family. She contacted River Watch, and we got to work figuring out how to involve her All Nations students in the cleaning of this creek.

We began our project with a blessing and a smudging ceremony led by Tedi Owl and AllenMichael Owen from MIGIZI. Then, with a truck bed’s worth of equipment (shovels, wheelbarrows, safety gloves, rope), fourteen students and five adults trekked down the beautiful trail to the heavily impaired creek. Upon arriving, the shallow creek, nestled in the steep ravine, was mostly frozen over. The ice made traversing the ravine relatively easy, but made it decidedly more difficult to remove the trash in the creek bed. Over two hours, we removed 13 tires, a car battery, a folding chair, 2 microwaves (just a guess, as they were incredibly rusted), and other bits of plastics and refuse. Prying the tires from the creekbed was particularly strenuous because, on top of them being frozen into place, they had been there so long the tires had embedded themselves deep into the soil. We were able to remove every large piece of trash (looking at you large metal tank), but we got everything we could out of the waterway, which will undoubtedly reduce the amount of toxins leaching into the stream and nearby lake.

It was so gratifying to see the students engage in work that immediately resulted in cleaner water. This work was particularly special because Mound Spring Park is a culturally significant area to Indigenous Minnesotans, having one of the highest concentrations of burial mounds in the Twin Cities. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the passionate group of organizers, without whom this project could not have been accomplished.  Thank you to the All Nations Student of South High School, Ms. Gavin-Vanegas, MIGIZI’s Tedi Owl, AllenMichael Owen, and the president of the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District Joseph Barisonzi. I can’t wait to see what the stream looks like when we go back in the spring.

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