Maine should develop a statewide plan for reducing the amount of salt it uses to treat roads in the winter, a new report said.

The report, from the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said the state needs to make salt reduction a priority in parts of the state that are environmentally sensitive. The study, done in collaboration with the Maine Department of Transportation, also said officials should increase the monitoring of chlorides in water bodies and set up a dashboard to inform the public about its findings.

The report focused on road maintenance in an era of a changing climate and said the state should do an assessment of hazardous weather conditions based on hourly weather data to help determine how snow, rain, freezing rain and sleet intermix during storms in various parts of the state. That information, the report said, can help refine predictions of how long and intense a storm may be and that, in turn, can help with decision-making on when and where to use salt.

The study, “Road Salt in Maine: An Assessment of Practices, Impacts and Safety,” comes as state officials are trying to figure out how climate change will affect road conditions and maintenance, with a consensus emerging that a warmer climate will mean worse potholes and an increased risk of water pollution from excessive salting to treat roads in winter.

Warming weather will have a big impact on the use of road salt in Maine, the report found. It has led to increased variability in winter weather with both record low and record high snowfall years occurring between 2010 and 2019.

The University of Maine report urged greater cooperation and information-sharing among experts as a key to preparing for the impact of a changing climate. It said that stronger links between university research, environmental monitoring and road-maintenance workers can help prepare the state for changing conditions.


It also suggests reaching out to towns and cities around the state, possibly through the Maine Municipal Association, to help keep local officials up to date on the latest research on the impact of using salt on roads and to provide training on to use it responsibly.

In Maine, rock salt, or sodium chloride, is most commonly used to treat winter roads because it is relatively cheap and easy to handle. However, it can also get into fresh water supplies and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said that 20 streams in the state are now on a list of chloride-impaired urban stream watersheds.

It can take decades for a body of water to recover from chloride pollution, the report said.

Maine used about 493,000 tons of road salt in 2019–20, equal to roughly 787 pounds of salt for every Maine resident, or 11 tons per lane mile per year, the report said.

Other states, notably New Hampshire and Minnesota, are taking steps to reduce the amount of salt needed to treat their roads, the report said, and Maine should do likewise.

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