How Salt Is Threatening Our Drinking Water

Increasing levels of a common mineral is becoming a threat to source water quality, as well as the plants, animals, and humans who count on it.

“At least a third of the rivers and streams in the country have gotten saltier in the past 25 years,” Scientific American reported. “And by 2100, more than half of them may contain at least 50% more salt than they used to. Increasing salinity will not just affect freshwater plants and animals but human lives as well — notably, by affecting drinking water.”

Salt is finding its way into freshwater sources primarily from de-icing efforts in the winter, when the granules are thrown onto roads, parking lots, and sidewalks to keep people and cars from slipping. But recent research has also identified acid rain caused by air pollution as a major driver of salt into freshwater.

And that intrusion doesn’t just hurt wildlife. It’s a significant threat to drinking water quality, industrial operations, and agriculture as well.

“Salts can free up other pollutants, too,” according to Scientific American. “A similar issue recently arose in Flint, Mich., where the decision to start drawing drinking water from a saltier local river mobilized lead from pipes into the water supply. Nationwide, salts are crusting the insides of home boilers and the cooling tanks of power plants. They are also coating the land where crops grow.”

Addressing the issue won’t be an easy feat, as the use of salt is increasing across numerous applications all over the world. Plus, activities like mining and oil and gas extraction are uncovering more salt from inside the earth than ever.

But there is hope that an increase in innovative, salt-use alternatives can reverse this trend and bring our source water supplies back to safe levels of freshness.

“In recent years, some areas including Washington have switched out road salt for a more-unusual sounding antidote — beet juice,” per The Washington Post. “A beet juice brine, which contains less salt, helps lower the freezing point of ice, sticks to roads more effectively and is better for the environment.”

Additional proactive change seems to be necessary to save us from salt, but getting a grasp on the problem facing freshwater supplies is an important start.

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