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Salt in Urbanized Watersheds

Collaborative project on campus: Using the Campus as a Living Lab

The Toronto Metropolitan University campus has an area of 31,771m2

Using brine diverts up to 2,899 kg of Cl- which amounts to a 40% Cl- reduction on the Ryerson campus

Results in up to $1,237 in savings 

Urban Water TMU & Ryerson Facilities Management and Development (FMD) have partnered with WWF-Canada to create a more winter sustainable campus through the road salt reduction project. The goals of the project were:

  1. To evaluate the effectiveness of using anti-icing for reducing road salt usage on the Toronto Metropolitan University campus
  2. To promote road salt reduction to the public, private commercial property owners, water professionals, and policy/ decision-makers

The collaborative partnership among the parties allowed us to implement anti-icing methods on a portion of the paved surfaces on campus. The metrics monitored and tracked throughout the pilot project were the: effectiveness, cost and reduction in road salt usage. 


The Ryerson team:

Academic lead: Dr. Claire Oswald

Masters of Spatial Analysis graduate student: Kevin Duffin

Urban Water TMU Staff: Angela Murphy & Nicholas Reid

Ryerson Sustainability team: led by Kyle Robinson, Sharmilla Raj

Ryerson FMD team: supervisor Daniel Batko, groundskeeper Kieran McCully, lead hand Joey Demelo, supported by Garth Poppleton

The pilot project took place during the 2018-2019 winter season on the Toronto Metropolitan University campus. The Ryerson FMD team created and sprayed an in-house liquid brine solution (a mixture of salt and water) to de-ice 20 locations across Ryerson’s downtown campus in anticipation of snowfalls and freezing rain. The Ryerson FMD team was highly engaged in the process and was responsible for ordering materials, mixing and storing anti-icing solution, and maintaining the equipment. It is noteworthy that there was no increase in liability or complaints this past winter with the introduction of the brining on campus.

Dr. Oswald and her research team are analyzing the data that FMD had collected over the application period. The research team has found that on average, anti-icing with brine requires 25% less NaCl than conventional rock salt. The team also estimates that over the 2018/19 winter season, NaCl and Cl- inputs to the 4 test zones were reduced by approximately 4000kg and 2500kg respectively. This reduction has not hindered the safety of pedestrians on the campus.

Ryerson Facilities plans to scale up the project in winter 2019-2020. The research team will predict the impact of further reductions in salt over time as the campus begins to increase brine usage over the entire campus. As well, the team will model the impact of applying brine in place of road salt to the TTC King Street streetcar line, Metrolinx GO Stations along Lakeshore east and west between Long Branch and Rouge Hill stations, and Green P parking lots. This data will be presented to the TTC, Metrolinx, and City of Toronto.

The project team is working together to share information to networks within the Ryerson community (40k students and staff), ministries, councillors, business partners (cleantech businesses, water and environment sectors), and other universities and colleges. Dr. Oswald will present the results of the project to City of Toronto, Lake Simcoe and Region Conservation Authority’s Road Salt working group and WWF-Canada’s Chloride Working Group.

This project was well communicated to partners and the broader community via the communication strategy put into place. Urban Water TMU hosted more than 6 outreach events between November 2018 and May 2019 and plans to hold 2 more activities during the summer. These events have engaged more than 150 students, 125 researchers and potential collaborators, and 100 members of the public. Urban Water TMU has also reached almost 42,000 users through tweets pertaining to this project. The ancillary benefits of the project, such as corrosive impacts of road salt, were also conveyed to members of the community.  

This project would not have been possible without the support of the involved parties as they all went out of their way to plan, execute, and present the process. The initiative started with Dr. Oswald spear-heading this project as a by-product of her past work and her environmentally conscious nature. This will set the standard and provide data for other organizations to follow. Urban Water TMU and WWF-Canada are engaging industry members, through outreach events, into this initiative before they begin to purchase their road salt for the 2019-2020 winter season. 

This project is allowing Ryerson to take action against the increasing chloride levels in Ontario urban and rural waterways. WWF-Canada published the Great Lakes Hot Spot Maps (external link) , which highlights the devastating effects of chloride levels due to excessive road salt on species like fish, frogs and mussels in waterways. These same waterways are reaching salt levels found in oceans, during peak periods. This creates many ecological and environmental issues that can be devastating for a lot of species and industries. 


Wai Ying Lam's 3 Minute Thesis on Salty Ponds, Salty Streams (external link, opens in new window)