Tap Water Taste Weird? Thank Road Salt, Snowstorms

A backhoe pours salt onto a pile ahead of a snowstorm.
A backhoe pours salt onto a pile ahead of a snowstorm.

To contend with one of the snowiest winters on record — with storm after storm pelting the state — New Jersey has caked its freeways, local streets and country roads in thick, powdery layers of salt.

Or to put it another way: The state Transportation Department has used more than 460,000 tons of salt — nearly an 80 percent increase over last winter — enough to season a large order of French fries for every New Jerseyan every day for nearly 368 years.

Now, as spring approaches, the consequences of using so much salt will become clear: The big thaw will float the chemical into lakes and streams, threatening freshwater fish and posing a risk to the water supplies of millions, experts say.

Many people may already find that their tap water tastes a bit unusual — even salty — and the situation could get worse.

So significant is the runoff of sodium chloride as this punishing winter draws to a close that some water companies have warned customers their tap water could contain elevated sodium levels — a concern for those on a salt-restricted diet.

“This can be a serious health issue for those folks,” Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, said of the salt runoff. “And it’s not good for the environment either.”