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The Nation’s Rivers and Streams Are Getting Dangerously Saltier


Map of Rivers

Research published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that the nation’s streams and rivers are becoming collectively saltier at an alarming rate. The study used data collected from 232 U.S. Geological Survey monitoring sites over the course of the last five decades to analyze changes to the acidity and salinity of major waterways.

Researchers documented severe chemical changes in many rivers that supply drinking water to major metropolises, including the Potomac, Mississippi, and Hudson rivers. The conclusion of the research is that all of the waterways in the United States have been increasing in salinity and in alkaline levels over time to varying degrees.

An increased level of salt in water supplies poses health risks to millions of affected Americans, according to The Washington Post. The rising levels of salinity can destroy ecosystems and can fracture urban infrastructure if left untreated long-term.

The salt we spread on roads and sidewalks to prevent ice from accumulating during cold weather is one of the contributing factors to the increased salinity of rivers and streams, but it is far from the only one.

Gene Likens, a University of Connecticut professor, president emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and co-author of the new study was disheartened by the findings. “The fact that it is occurring so widely surprised us,” he stated to The Washington Post. “The impacts we humans are having on natural systems are really widespread.”

Some of the major contributors to the increase in salinity are traditional road salts in the winter, fertilizers used in the Midwest containing a high level of potassium, mining waste, and the weathering of soil, rocks, and concrete that releases salts into nearby waterways.

Salinity in water can prove disastrous because sodium chloride is notoriously difficult to remove from drinking water supplies. This fact combined with the aging infrastructure of the nation’s water system can lead to water quality crises like the ongoing lead contamination in Flint, Michigan.

That problem began when the town of Flint altered the water source to the Flint River, and the high salt load of that river led to dangerous amounts of lead leeching into the pipes and residents’ drinking water.

According to the study over 37 percent of the drainage areas in the United States have experienced an increase in salinity over the last 50 years. Some areas, however, noticed a decrease in salinity, most notably the Southwest where droughts have prompted state and local officials to carefully monitor the quality of the water supply.

“The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate salts as primary contaminants in drinking water at the federal level, and there is inconsistency in managing salt pollution at the local level,” stated Sujay Kaushal, a geology professor at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the study, during an announcement of the study’s findings. “These factors are something communities need to address to provide safe water now and for future generations.”

At Pelican Water we are committed to providing safer, cleaner drinking water to homes across the country in an environmentally friendly way. We know that salt pollution is a major issue when it comes to water softening technology, which is why our Salt-Free Water Softeners are designed to naturally soften water without salt, brine discharge, or the use of electricity.

When you decide to invest in a water filter or a water softener choose a company that has been keeping salt out of our precious waterways for years.

Pelican Combo System Salt-Free Water Softener Whole-House Water Filter