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Addressing Chloride Challenges in Stillwater

At the October 17th, 7 pm council meeting, the Stillwater Council delved into a critical issue that had been plaguing the community – chloride contamination. The 10-minute presentation given by Angie Hong not only informed the council but also included valuable information in their packets. Local chloride challenges are on the rise, and Stillwater faces both immediate and long-term impacts. Let's explore the scenario and the proposed solutions that safeguard the city's environment.

2023 Stillwater council salt presentation
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Local Chloride Challenges: The presentation began by highlighting the local chloride challenges, with a special focus on the recent Long Lake impairment. Despite meeting chronic chloride standards, elevated concentrations in sediment and increasing levels at monitoring stations posed concerns. Notably, efforts to de-list Long Lake for excess nutrients were underway, emphasizing the intricate balance in environmental management. The historical impairments of lakes and streams closer to the core metro and the escalating chloride levels in groundwater, St. Croix River, and wastewater treatment plant effluent further underscored the urgency of the issue.

The presentation addressed critical questions regarding the permanence of chloride impairments and the effectiveness of changing practices. Did a chloride impairment linger indefinitely, and could altering our approach lead to tangible benefits or merely delay future issues?

Impacts of Chloride Contamination: The detrimental impacts of chloride contamination were emphasized. The presentation shed light on the irreversible nature of chloride once introduced into the environment. From lethal effects on zooplankton and larval mussels to a decrease in the survival of wood frog larvae and the potential creation of feedback loops contributing to more cyanobacteria, the impacts were far-reaching. Terrestrial plants and wildlife along roadways, alongside the estimated $5 billion cost due to corrosion of roads and bridges, further emphasized the gravity of the situation.

Current Initiatives and Recommendations: To combat chloride contamination, Stillwater implemented a multi-faceted approach. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) framework for chloride reductions, coupled with chloride reduction grants, provided a foundation for action. The SMART Salt certification initiative, in collaboration with MPCA and Bolton & Menk, targeted snowplow drivers, property managers, and the public to reduce salt usage. Public education campaigns advocated for responsible salt use at home, while monitoring efforts involved WCD, watershed districts, MPCA, and citizen volunteers. The incorporation of low-salt design further underscored the commitment to sustainable practices.

Thinking Outside the Box: To inspire innovation, the presentation explored unconventional solutions, including underground heating in downtown areas, salt alternatives like beet brine, and statewide legislative changes. The latter involved eliminating the sale of chloride and mandating snow tires and/or chains in winter. Additionally, alternatives to water softening and a transition from infiltration to stormwater reuse in commercial locations were proposed.

Action Items for Stillwater: The presentation concluded with actionable items for the City of Stillwater. These included

  • ensuring public works staff were trained and certified,

  • reducing salt usage, and

  • investing in new equipment for trucks.

Ongoing partnerships with BCWD (Long Lake, Brown’s Creek) and MSCWMO (McKusick, Lily, St. Croix River) also demonstrate a commitment to protecting and restoring local lakes and streams.

The presentation advocated for a proactive approach with private businesses, exploring both incentivization and regulation. Lastly, it encouraged thinking big and exploring ambitious projects like in-ground heating in downtown Stillwater through collaborative grant applications with other entities.

In confronting the chloride challenge, Stillwater should aim not only to inform but to inspire collective action and innovative solutions for a sustainable future.

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