Chesapeake Bay Essay Example & Outline

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Salt, snow melt and Chesapeake Bay


Chesapeake Bay located inland from the Atlantic Ocean is found in the United States. The bay spun both several states including Maryland and Virginia (Walter, 2003). There are approximately 150 flowing into the bay. The diverse watershed is expansive and covers 64000 square miles. This bay forms a habitat for over 2700 species of both plants and animals. The estuary has attracted a huge number of inhabitants with the population set to increase. The rapidly expanding population poses a major challenge to the integrity of the bay.

The bay provides lots of recreational activity for people with fisheries being one of them. The water in the bay not only provides places for fishing, birding and boating opportunities but also for drinking for the six states surrounding the watershed (Walter, 2003). This paper will look into the environmental concern of the melting ice and its influence on the Bay. Furthermore, the paper will highlight the importance of the watershed, its environmental impact, policy response to the environmental issues raised and the pros and cons of the policy response (Walter, 2003).

Salt, snow melt and Chesapeake Bay

Winter in Chesapeake Bay lasts for an average of 15 days with snowfall, sleet and freezing rain characterizing the period (Horton, T., & Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2003. The wintry weather wreaks havoc to community living around the Bay. This prompted the authorities to remove snow and ice from the road to keep operations in the Bay ‘normal’. Increasingly, the community is relying on salt to keep the roads clear. There is an environmental concern when salt and other chemicals find the application in keeping the roads open (Lippson & Lippson, 2006).

Road salting has become a phenomenon in the region unlike in the past where sand and other abrasives found high relevance to keep the roads clear. Local authorities have shifted to the use of road salt with the annual application of the same increasing depending on the severity of the winter. The Bay is situated on the traditional Snow Belt which raises the environmental impact of the road salt application. On average, about 20 tons are applied during the winter period on the roads. With no statistics available on road salt application, there are an estimated 2.5 million tons used. This is a lot of salt which ends up draining in the fresh water Bay.

Chesapeake Bay is an estuary which has an interface of both freshwater and salty seawater (Horton, T., & Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2003). The freshwater comes from the tributaries while salty water arises from the ocean. The contrast between the natures of both waters provides a balance in the ecosystem. Seawater is denser than the fresh water. This implies that salty sea water flows at the bottom of the bay while freshwater flows on the top. The Bay rarely freezes due to salty water although the surface may freeze allowing people to walk over it.

The environmental implication of road salt application is the dissolution of chloride ions into the water. Once dissolved it becomes virtually difficult to remove the chloride ions (Lippson & Lippson, 2006). Road salting becomes a primary source of chloride ions dissolved in the fresh water of the Bay. In addition to chloride ions, road salt is awash with many impurities such as phosphorus, copper, nitrogen and even cyanide. Cyanide finds application in road salt as an anti-caking agent.

Under the conditions of application, it is transformable to free cyanide, which poses a danger to aquatic life (Lippson & Lippson, 2006). Fresh snow is relatively pure, but after a while the snow pack becomes contaminated with salt spray, street dirt, and airborne pollutants. When the snow melts, the pollutants in it find the way to the waterways. Some of the pollutants include; zinc, copper and hydrocarbons. After the snow melt, pollutants concentration in the run-off is at its greatest peak annually.

Environment Impacts

Chloride in drinking water is safe until it exceeds a concentration of 250 ppm. There are consequential environmental impacts of chloride and melt-water pollution to the Bay. In concentrations of 1000ppm, chloride is harmful to the aquatic life. During winter, chloride levels exceed this concentration. Melting snow on the road creates an artificial salt lick that attracts birds and mammals. Natural licks were considered best for hunting as the wild life crave salt in their diet. Artificial licks have other contaminants that get into the biosystems of the wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay. Road kill has become a recent phenomenon as the mammals lick salt by the roadside.

Read also on the effect of environmental salinity on daphania

Salting has increased salinity levels of the soils within a few feet from the road although they extend further from the point of application (Lippson & Lippson, 2006). Many plants species in the Bay become sensitive to increased chloride levels and may die or fail to germinate under such harsh conditions. Plants that are not salt tolerant will fail to grow resulting to withering of the species or even complete disappearance. Salting accelerates rusting of metal surfaces, which includes the underside of cars and bridges.

This contributes to the presence of ferric (iii) oxide in the watershed. The seepage of salty water to ground water often leads to danger on animal and human health. Dieback and leaf damage are observed on the plant species with salt tolerant ones invading. Salty water layer at the bottom hinders the availability of nutrients for the aquatic life. Salt toxicity is a common feature for both the birds and animals inhabiting the Bay. Fresh water fish under the saline condition fails to utilize nutrients due to impairment of its metabolic processes.

Policy response

Many states within the US have set guidelines on the level of chloride. The criterion maximum concentration or limit should be 860 mg/l for short-term exposure while, for long term exposure, it should be 230mg/l or less (Lippson & Lippson, 2006). These stringent measurements find applications in areas where rare and sensitive species inhabit. The policies adopted are variable depending on the member states relying on the watershed. For instance, Texas applied the use-attainability analyses to determine the water quality standards in specified streams with the chloride concentration varying from 50mg/l to 37,000 mg/l. Wyoming uses federal chloride standards specified for aquatic life, and the water meant for drinking. There are also site specific standards used which complicates the general criteria (Walter, 2003).

Collaboration is an element used to determine water standards for the river basins and cross state lines. An example of this collaboration is Delaware River Basin Commission which encompasses states such as Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. In this collaborative move, the water quality needs to meet set standards (Horton, T., & Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2003. Median values have been used to measure the water quality in the watershed.

Salt transportation agencies are required to balance salt application with the public safety concerns. The consensus on minimizing environmental impacts of snow melt is controlling storm water run-off and minimizing the creation of impervious surfaces. There is a policy oriented at using substitute de-icing agents that pose limited environmental effects. Pieces of the legislature are available for the management of the same with Salt Management Plan underway. States have shifted away from road salt application to the use of brine which has minimal environmental impact. Storage techniques for salt and sand should be adopted to prevent possible run-off (Horton, T., & Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2003.

There are potential obstacles to some of the policies responses. Many states have a different set standards in managing the right application, which complicates the universal goal towards the management of the same (Lippson & Lippson, 2006). Alternative means are expensive and often not effective in de-icing. Most people are ignorant in the management of the watershed thus; it becomes difficult to get the right volunteers for the adoption of policies. Seeking funding from the government to implement the policies especially when there is conflict of interests becomes difficult. This provides an obstacle to the coordinating the implementation of the policies and other strategies geared at managing the watershed. Continual monitoring of the watershed for detection of the abnormal salinity levels is a necessity (Lippson & Lippson, 2006).


Alternative de-icing methods is potential response in the approach of increased chloride ions in the watershed.

• They will decrease the amount of salinity in the watershed

• They are easier in use and application, for instance the use of trucks to clear the road.

• They are environmental friendly which support the flourishing of species living in the watershed

• There is limited contamination of the ground water and water meant for drinking

• Reduces contaminating of snow packs with additional materials such as cyanide


• They are often expensive especially the use of trucks to move away the ice

• They are comparatively inefficient in comparison to the use of road salt, which accelerates snow melt.


Horton, T., & Chesapeake Bay Foundation (2003). Turning the tide: Saving the Chesapeake Bay. Washington, D.C: Island Press.
Lippson, A. J., & Lippson, R. L. (2006). Life in the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Walker, S. M. (2003). Life in an estuary. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Co.