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Water Resources Management cohort publishes "A Blueprint for Salt Sustainability on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus”

November 4, 2020

The Nelson Institute’s 2018-2020 Water Resources Management master’s program (WRM) cohort recently published the report, “A Blueprint for Salt Sustainability on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus,” which documents the findings from a two-year project that sought to better understand the use of salt on campus and ultimately achieve a 25 percent reduction in usage.

This report is the result of the WRM program’s 18-month intensive interdisciplinary practicum that brings students and community together on a water resources policy project. In this case, the WRM cohort joined the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District to better understand salt pollution and create a plan to reduce salt usage throughout the UW-Madison community.

“The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District presented the project to us, and we were happy to jump on board with the idea,” said WRM student Tristyn Forget. “Salt pollution is something that many people, including myself before starting this project, aren't very aware of, especially when it comes to water softener salt, so we saw this project as a great opportunity to not only reduce UW-Madison's salt contributions to nearby freshwater resources but to also increase awareness of salt pollution.” 

Throughout the project, the cohort engaged with more than 30 stakeholders ranging from campus Facilities Planning and Management staff to local organizations who focus on water quality. Through these partnerships, the cohort gained an understanding of salt use and brainstormed ways to improve community awareness of salt pollution. With the help of these partners such as Caitlin Bourbeau with the UW Applied Population Lab, the cohort was able to develop a report that outlines recommendations for salt use as well as a Salt Awareness Learning Tool (SALT), which is an interactive, web-based graphic on salt pollution pathways, impacts, and mitigation strategies.

“We also created a Winter Salting Guide for Winter Maintenance Professionals, as well as an abbreviated version for the general public, with help from Bonnie Willison and the Wisconsin Water Resources Institute,” added Forget. “We were also able to create tools to help university staff with tracking salt use, including GIS dashboards that track both water softener and winter de-icing salt for different departments across campus.” 

The report and its associated tools are now available for use by the community and the university. In fact, Forget shared that the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability has taken on the role of operationalizing the recommendations from the report as the university works toward the goal of reducing its annual salt use by 25 percent. Additionally, Forget said that other community partners are also working to share the results of the report and increase awareness surrounding salt use.

“We worked with the Friends of Lake Wingra and held a community presentation with them, which went really well and seemed to spark interest in those that attended,” said Forget. “They are currently working with the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District to increase salt pollution awareness by transforming old water softeners into public art.”

Forget and the cohort are thankful for the help of campus and community partners in getting the word out as the cohort believes that increasing awareness is key to sustainable salt use.

“A major part of mitigating salt pollution is increasing awareness of the issue and altering perceptions and attitudes regarding salt use,” said Forget.

Anita Thompson, the WRM Chair added, “This Blueprint is a great example of the Wisconsin Idea and what a group of students with different disciplinary backgrounds can achieve when they work together as a team of practitioners focused on managing our water resources, exactly what the WRM program trains them to do.”

“A Blueprint for Salt Sustainability on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus,”  is now available to the public on the  WRM Workshop site.