UNH Research Says, "Hold the Salt"
By Beth Potier, Media Relations
February 20, 2008
The day after storm of “wintry mix,” two UNH parking lots demonstrate
the dramatic impact pervious pavement can have on stormwater runoff. Both photos
were taken Thursday, Feb. 14 by Jamie Houle, UNH Stormwater Center. This photo
is of a parking lot paved with porous concrete. Despite lower salt use, it
is nearly clear.
Researchers from the UNH Stormwater Center are testing technologies that may
put parking lots on a “low-salt diet” in the future, reducing the
amount of salt needed for winter maintenance by as much as 70 percent.
Salt may make road conditions safer after a snowstorm, but it’s tough
on the environment. On regular asphalt, road salt (sodium chloride) washes
away with the runoff, contaminating groundwater, wells, and freshwater streams
and lakes. Road salt is also tough on municipal budgets strapped by the costs
of cleaning up after one of the snowiest winters in recent memory.
“The systems commonly used to treat stormwater runoff do not remove
chloride,” says Robert Roseen, the center director. “The answer
is to use less salt in the first place. Our research indicates that by using
pervious pavement, like porous asphalt or concrete, we can reduce the amount
of salt needed for winter maintenance drastically, maybe by as much as 70 percent.”
In this photo, Robert Roseen stands in the slush of a traditional parking
lot treated with salt
The UNH Stormwater Center provides independent, scientific testing of stormwater
treatment systems in a side-by-side setting, as well as workshops and consulting
for the stormwater management community. It is supported by the Cooperative
Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET), a partnership
of UNH and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and
housed within UNH’s Environmental Research Group.
In the United States, road salt use can be as high as 12 million tons annually,
according to the National Research Council. And the amount of salt used has
been going up in recent years, largely due to increases in land development
and perceived safety needs. Porous pavements, which use an open-graded aggregate
with high porosity, drastically reduce the amount of salt needed to stay clear
of snow and ice.
The UNH researchers installed a porous asphalt parking lot at the center’s
field site three years ago, and have been carefully monitoring its performance
as a stormwater management system ever since. Another project, looking at ability
of pervious concrete to achieve similar results, began last year.
“Porous asphalt allows snowmelt and rain to drain through the surface
and filter through the layers of gravel and sand below,” explains Thomas
Ballestero, center co-director and UNH associate professor of civil engineering. “So,
not only does it appear to need less salt, this infiltration process removes
pollutants like sediment, heavy metals, and petroleum products. The lot also
does a phenomenal job of reducing the volume of runoff.”
Porous pavements are not new, but questions about their performance have prevented
its widespread application. The porous asphalt study, now in its third year,
has been collecting data that demonstrates its effectiveness as a stormwater
management system and its ability to stand up to the freeze and thaw cycles
of New England winters.
“Our data indicates that a well-designed and constructed porous asphalt
system is a superior approach to treating stormwater runoff, one that doesn’t
take up the additional space required by detention ponds,” says Roseen. “It’s
the kind of tool communities need to meet EPA’s Clean Water Act Phase
It is not, he cautions, a magic bullet. It’s probably not appropriate
for high speed and heavy traffic roads. And like any stormwater system that
relies on infiltration, care must be taken before using porous pavements in
areas where there is potential for hazardous spills, such as near gas stations.
Researchers will continue to evaluate its performance in the coming year.