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Keeping Madison lakes healthy year-round: How your salt usage makes a difference

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MADISON, Wis. - As Dane County and Madison street crews work to cut back on the amount of salt they use to de-ice the roads, the Clean Lakes Alliance says the average person can do their part, as well.

“It’s not just in the summer, what you can do to help the lakes,” said Adam Sodersten, Clean Lakes Alliance marketing and development director. “It’s in the winter, too.”

Lakes in Madison are year-round.

"This is where my passion lies, is on the ice,” avid ice fisher Devon Bliese said. "There's something special about it."

On Lake Monona Bay, there were more ice fishers than degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday.

"If you don't have to go outside, don't, unless you like doing this,” Bliese said.

Fish don't leave the lakes for the winter, so neither does Bliese.

"It's just an addicting sport,” he said.

Also known as “Junkie Jesus” in his group, Ice Junkies Outdoors, Bliese has been ice fishing on Madison lakes since he was a kid.

"As often as I can. If the wife says I can go, I'm out,” he said. "They're just really great fisheries, how well they sustain themselves, and how every year, there's hundreds of people who come out to fish, but they are always fish to be caught."

However, a substance we see in winter nearly as often as snow threatens Madison lakes' ecosystems. Salt put on the roads and sidewalks in Madison eventually makes its way into the lakes.

"People need to start thinking that if I put it on my driveway, or if I put it on my sidewalk, it's going to wash off, it's going to go in that storm sewer, it's going to end in the lake,” Sodersten said. "Reducing salt we put on the land is real important."

Sodersten said too much salt can disrupt plant and some fish life, and everyone’s on the hook to help out.

"We use salt for a reason -- the reason is to melt things and to not fall and hurt ourselves and crash cars into other cars. So there's obviously a real good use for it,” he said. “The thing that is really helpful for the lakes is to reduce the use of it and only use it when it's really going to work."

Sodersten said when it's too cold out, salt won't melt ice, so he asks people to only use salt when temperatures are right and spread only as much as is necessary.

"A little bit of salt goes a long way,” he said, adding that shoveling to the best of your ability can help, too.

Anything to help the lakes can benefit people like Bliese, too, who’d like to freeze the lakes just the way they are for years to come.

"They're such beautiful lakes and thriving with such healthy fish populations, it'd be sad to see them diminish (and to) not be able to bring my grandchildren here to do the same thing I've been doing today,” Bliese said.