An international, multi-institutional team of researchers recommends ways that humans can protect fresh water from salts in an article in the journal Science. Aquatic life can suffer when high concentrations of dissolved salts enter freshwater ecosystems, a process know as salinization.

“We’ve written the paper as a call to action, or at least a call to awareness, and we’ve tried to describe what we think will be an effective path forward,” said team member Tony Timpano, a forestry doctoral student. Increased salinization in fresh water is an issue that hasn’t gotten much attention in terms of science policy, according to Timpano.

Recommendations include using less water for agricultural practices and less salt for road de-icing, reducing salt waste during mining operations, and re-routing urban salt discharges to retention basins rather than treatment plants or streams. Of the two dozen streams that Timpano monitors, those located near coal mining operations have shown the highest salt concentrations and insect losses.

“I’ve been focusing on trying to understand the pattern of salinization through time because it does change seasonally, and they trying to understand that related to the diversity of stream insect communities,” Timpano said. “These insect communities are currently being used as a bio-indicator of water body health for Clean Water Act compliance.”

Read the full press release.