Salt from roads in city tap water, could be unhealthy

For the many people who drove on University Avenue this winter, the roads were salted over and over for safe driving, but all of that salt is causing a problem for area residents, who are drinking the water out of city well 14.

That well, near University Avenue and Segoe Road, has high chloride levels -- stemming from road salt.

Road salt is made of two chemicals: sodium and chloride. Right now, city well 14 has seen their chloride levels increase with twofold since 2000.

Upon standing on top of University Avenue by well 14, all roads lead downhill -- draining salt right into the well pump.

"We're starting to notice some very dangerous trends we're seeing at unit well 14," said Joe Grande, water quality manager for Madison Water Utility.

Some people shouldn't even be drinking their tap water.

"The level at well 14 is above a threshold, so people that are on salt restricted diets shouldn't be consuming the tap water," said Grande

There's another problem with the levels at the pump.

"We might start to have significant complaints from our customers about an objectionable taste - largely due to the water tasting a little salty," said Grande

The change isn't expected for up to 10 years, but Madison Water Utility is worried the water will taste so bad in the coming years, residents will boycott it.

"They just say it tastes bad!" said Greg Hull, president of the Spring Harbor Neighborhood Association.

The neighborhood is located off University Avenue, and bordering Lake Mendota. They get their water from pump 14.

"Residents noticed a drop in water quality, just the physical taste, we knew something was wrong there," said Hull.

They're planning a neighborhood association meeting, bringing in a water quality specialist in hopes of finding answers.

"I have residents who say they don't drink their tap water anymore," said Hull.

Grande says there are solutions in place.

"Our focus is working with DOT, and the county, and the streets department," said Grande.

A different type of salt, or reducing salt in the area is the change they're working towards. They say the best solution has to do with eliminating salt we use, because filtering it out of the water is a difficult, wasteful and expensive process.

Aside from those whose doctors have put them on salt restricted diets, the water utility assures there is no health risk with salt in the water. But residents of the Spring Harbor neighborhood hope that doesn't slow a solution.

"We need to know what we're working with -- what the issues are, what our concerns should be. We're concerned right now because the water tastes bad," said Hull.

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