Tag Archives: water quality

Research Provides Foundation for Chloride Mitigation Efforts

The accumulation of chloride in our waters has become a widespread concern. In a recent study sponsored by MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board, researchers measured the transport and accumulation of chloride from road deicers in a metro-area watershed. The findings revealed a greater infiltration of chlorides into soil and subsurface waters than previously assumed.

“The results of this research provide us with knowledge we did not
have before,” says William Herb,a research associate with the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and the study’s principal investigator. “It will help investigators and policymakers explore ways to capture chlorides and mitigate their damaging environmental effects.”

Road salt (sodium chloride) is used in most states that experience snow and ice, with growing impact. For example, chloride levels in some lakes and streams in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metro area exceed state and federal water quality
standards, and a recent study showed that levels in more than one-quarter of shallow groundwater wells in the metro were above drinking-water taste standards.

“This is a real concern because even in low concentrations, chloride can be lethal to sensitive plants and some aquatic species, and many of our lakes, wetlands, and streams show acute or chronic levels of chloride,” Herb says.

To learn how chlorides from road salt deicers are transported in urban watersheds, researchers installed field instruments at eight sites in a Roseville watershed. They monitored water and chloride levels nearly continuously over three winter seasons; this included runoff directly from sources (roads and parking lots), transport in ditches and sewer networks, and retention in and release from detention ponds and wetlands. Computer modeling was used to generalize results.

2017-50-p1-image
This drain along State Highway 36 was one of the roadway runoff discharge sources used in the study.

Overall, the team observed substantial chloride retention via infiltration to soils and groundwater. For example, monitoring the runoff from a vegetated highway ditch showed that more than 95 percent of the chloride applied to the highway infiltrated
from the ditch into the soil, and less than 5 percent was exported from the site in surface runoff. “Interestingly, substantial chloride export from the ditch was observed in November rainfall runoff prior to application of any new road salt for the upcoming winter, suggesting long-term storage in soils and groundwater in and near the ditch,” Herb says.

Researchers also found that winter rain-on-snow events and the first major
prolonged thaw each season moved surface chlorides most effectively into the watershed.

The research team then used the data and modeling to examine potential strategies for reducing or mitigating the spread of chloride, including capturing low flows, seasonal runoff capture, and capture based on salinity.

Wayne Sandberg, deputy director of the Washington County Department of Public Works, chaired the study’s technical advisory panel. “Based on this research, we now know that deicer chemicals are staying in the soil and moving in the watersheds, and this should change how we manage ice and snow control,” he says. “The next questions are what can we do with that knowledge and what changes can we make.”

This article originally appeared in CTSs Catalyst Newsletter, March 2018 and pertains to Technical Summary 2017-50TS. The full report, “Study of De-icing Salt Accumulation and Transport Through a Watershed” 2017-50, published December 2017 can be accessed at mndot.gov/research/reports/2017/201750.pdf.

Drinking water solutions may help construction site runoff

The same chemicals used to treat drinking water might now be able to treat stormwater runoff to reduce the amount of pollutants entering Minnesota lakes and rivers from road construction sites.

A research project headed by Mankato State University and funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation has identified three chemical flocculants that are effective at removing a broad range of Minnesota soils from water.

“Water is leaving construction sites carrying too much sediment,” said Minnesota State University-Mankato Environmental Engineering Professor Steve Druschel. “Chemical treatment has been used to treat drinking water for 70 to 80 years, and our thought was to try it in construction as well.”

Adding flocculant to a sample of water from the Minnesota River causes sediment to clump and sink.
Adding flocculant to a sample of water from the Minnesota River causes sediment to clump and sink.

Recent MnDOT research has investigated monitoring the amount of sediment in stormwater runoff and using temporary ponds to let sediment settle out of stormwater before it runs off the construction site. MnDOT also wanted to examine the possibility of treating  construction runoff with flocculants, which are chemicals that cause suspended sediment to form clumps that quickly settle out of the solution.

Researchers tested 21 chemicals to see how well they could remove 57 types of soil from water. While no chemical was effective for the entire range of Minnesota’s soils, three chemicals were broadly effective on a range of samples.

The research will contribute to improved treatment of stormwater runoff from construction sites and reduce the amount of sediment pollution entering the state’s rivers and lakes.

Although flocculants have been used to treat drinking water for seven decades, there has been only limited testing of their use in treating construction runoff. Research was needed to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach.

Adding flocculant to stormwater runoff can be as simple as drilling a hole in a bucket of the chemical and mounting it above the water (as shown here), although thorough mixing must be ensured. MnDOT hopes to develop a system that will automatically dispense a precise dose based on the amount of sediment in the water.
Adding flocculant to stormwater runoff can be as simple as drilling a hole in a bucket of the
chemical and mounting it above the water (as shown here), although thorough mixing must be ensured. MnDOT hopes to develop a system that will automatically dispense a precise dose based on the amount of sediment in the water.

Since it is not feasible for workers to constantly monitor sediment concentration in stormwater runoff, MnDOT hopes to leverage the knowledge gained from this project to develop an automated system that measures the amount of sediment in runoff and automatically adds the appropriate dose of flocculant to treat the water.

“We’re trying to develop a portable water treatment plant that can be applied to construction projects to deliver clean runoff water after a storm,” said MnDOT Environmental Specialist Dwayne Stenlund.

Any chemicals recommended for field usage will need to be approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and methods for disposing of used chemicals will need to be identified as the environmental impacts of residual chemicals are unknown.

*Editor’s note: This article was adapted from the September-October 2014 issue of our Accelerator newsletter. Read it online or sign up for your free subscription.

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