In fall 2010, a US Geological Survey (USGS) researcher suggested a potential study to assess the impacts of road salt that would be well suited for volunteer monitoring program. He and his colleagues had recently found that some urban streams were toxic to fish and other aquatic life due to excessive salt entering them from nearby roads during winter months.
Water Action Volunteers Stream Monitoring Program staff worked with USGS to develop a citizen monitoring program designed to collect more data across a wider area than in this initial study. Initiated with Madison and Milwaukee area volunteers in February 2011, and expanded to other urban areas each winter since then, volunteers monitor specific conductance in the field and collect stream water samples to be analyzed at certified labs for chloride. Their monitoring has led to the discovery of numerous exceedances of both acute and chronic EPA chloride standards suggesting potential toxic impact to aquatic organisms. In addition, results have demonstrated that the conductivity meters used by the volunteers work well to provide a surrogate measure of chloride in the streams monitored, allowing additional monitoring with minimal added costs. A Great Lakes Regional Water Program grant and partnerships with Iowa DNR and Michigan State University Extension allowed the project to be expanded to Michigan and Iowa in winter 2012-13.
As of 2017, the project is continuing statewide only by interested volunteers who have been previously trained to follow the methods. It is not being expanded other than in Milwaukee where a grant was obtained to expand the monitoring effort.