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Saltwater Solution Aids in Controlling Ice Buildup on City Streets

Article from APWA publication

On December 8, 1995, the Oskaloosa Public Works Department started using a new method of controlling ice buildup on our most heavily-traveled city streets.

A city truck with a large yellow tank was used to apply a saltwater solution to the streets before an ice storm hit. Oskaloosa was the first city in the state of Iowa to employ this system, and while the idea for it came from the Iowa State Department of Transportation (IDOT), the equipment to apply it was entirely homegrown

The traditional way street departments deal with ice and ice/snow conditions is to apply salt or salt/sand mixtures on top of an accumulation of ice and/or snow This top-down melting uses large amounts of salt, and sometimes results in saltwater puddles. These concentrations of saltwater contribute to auto body damage, especially on older cars.

The new system, which was developed jointly by Iowa State University and the IDOT, attacks the problem from underneath, that is, a saltwater solution is applied onto the dry pavement, melting the ice and snow from the bottom up This has several benefits'

  1. It takes a very small amount of salt to prepare the solution. (meaning cheaper)
  2. It attacks the problem at the source, that is where the ice meets the road.
  3. It continues working and carries over between storms.
  4. It allows for increased manpower utilization, because the solution can be prepared and stored ahead of time.
  5. It keeps the salt away from your car better than traditional methods.
  6. It leaves no sand residue behind that has to be removed from storm sewer catch basins or swept up and disposed of in the spring by our city's street sweeping equipment. The Inspiration for this concept goes back to a state-sponsored snow conference in October, attended by several key public works people.


IDOT in West Des Moines has been experimenting with this newly-developed system for about three years. Out of their experience, a pilot program was developed at the Council Bluffs DOT, where the Council Bluffs technicians developed a low cost method of applying the liquid Two representatives of Oskaloosa Public Works visited with both West Des Moines and Council Bluffs DOT officials. viewed their respective systems and decided to seek authorization to build the local system.

Using salvage materials and agricultural valves and piping sources locally from Oskaloosa farm and hardware stores, Public Works personnel built a saltwater generating facility and application system at the city shop. While West Des Moines is evaluating a federally-sponsored $28,000 prototype application system, Oskaloosa built the complete saltwater generating and application system for less than $3,000. It is estimated that the system has largely paid for itself in reduced salt usage during two storms alone

While the system does not address all of the challenges facing snow and ice control, it goes a long way toward reducing the costs, and increasing the effectiveness of our annual battle against winter driving hazards.

Public Works crews will still be plowing, scooping, and clearing snow They will still be applying sand/salt mixes when needed at intersections to help motorists stop The liquid application isn't the answer to all possible situations, but it will reduce winter operating costs, and give city workers one more weapon against ice, which will help make Oskaloosa a safer place to drive.

Dan Kalbach- Oskaloosa