Chloride concentrations in waterways of northern USA are increasing at alarming rates and road salt is commonly assumed to be the cause. However, there are additional sources of Cl- in metropolitan areas, such as treated wastewater (TWW) and water conditioning salts, which may be contributing to Cl- loads entering surface waters. In this study, the potential sources of Cl- and Cl- loads in the Illinois River Basin from the Chicago area to the Illinois River's confluence with the Mississippi River were investigated using halide data in stream samples and published Cl- and river discharge data. The investigation showed that road salt runoff and TWW from the Chicago region dominate Cl- loads in the Illinois Waterway, defined as the navigable sections of the Illinois River and two major tributaries in the Chicago region. Treated wastewater discharges at a relatively constant rate throughout the year and is the primary source of Cl- and other elements such as F- and B. Chloride loads are highest in the winter and early spring as a result of road salt runoff which can increase Cl- concentrations by up to several hundred mg/L. Chloride concentrations decrease downstream in the Illinois Waterway due to dilution, but are always elevated relative to tributaries downriver from Chicago. The TWW component is especially noticeable downstream under low discharge conditions during summer and early autumn when surface drainage is at a minimum and agricultural drain tiles are not flowing. Increases in population, urban and residential areas, and roadways in the Chicago area have caused an increase in the flux of Cl- from both road salt and TWW. Chloride concentrations have been increasing in the Illinois Waterway since around 1960 at a rate of about 1 mg/L/a. The increase is largest in the winter months due to road salt runoff. Shallow groundwater Cl- concentrations are also increasing, potentially producing higher base flow concentrations. Projected increases in population and urbanization over the next several decades suggest that the trend of increasing Cl- concentrations and loads will continue. Given the susceptibility of aquatic ecosystems to increasing Cl- concentrations, especially short-term spikes following snow melts, deleterious effects on riverine ecosystems would be expected. ?? 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Using chloride and other ions to trace sewage and road salt in the Illinois Waterway