Beet brine used to tackle icy roads in Sylvan Lake

Beet and salt brine mixture proven effective at reducing ice at problem spots

Sylvan Lake is among a growing number of Canadian communities using beet brine to battle icy roads.

The town first got a taste of beet brine several years ago as part of a pilot project. Results were promising enough that the mix of salty water and sugar beet brine is back for a fourth year.

Adding beet brine to road mixtures means less corrosive salt is needed, which is good news for vehicle owners. Beet brine is a rust inhibitor, while salt, as Canadian drivers are well aware, eats away at vehicles.

Town operations manager John Watson said the mix of two-thirds salt brine and one-third beet brine is used as a “wetting agent” ahead of snowfalls at problem areas such as intersections and school zones.

The mixture raises the melting point of ice and interacts with sand, giving vehicles better traction, Watson said.

While the beet brine is not quite as effective as salt, it allows the town to use less salt while still getting good results down to nearly -20 C.

While the mixture goes on roads as a molasses-like brown liquid, it doesn’t stain the way typical deep purple table beets do.

The town drew attention to its beet brine on its Facebook page this week.

Snow clearing has been enough of an issue in Sylvan Lake that council was prompted to pass a new policy Monday that will see residential roads plowed sooner.

The changes were proposed after the town surveyed residents last spring and found nearly half of the 85 respondents were dissatisfied with local snow and ice control efforts. Residential roads were singled out as a problem in about one-third of the responses.

Under the new policy, all residential and minor connector roads are lumped into one category, and the amount of snow that can accumulate in a single storm before the plows are sent out has been reduced to 45 centimetres from 50.

That change will see residential roads plowed twice, instead of once, in a typical winter. It costs $60,000 per residential plow and about $155,000 to do the entire town.

Since the new category, which includes just over half of the town’s roads, is bigger than previous ones, the threshold to have plowing complete was increased to 16 days from 14.

Calgary has also been impressed by the benefits of beet brine, greatly increasing the amount it uses in recent years.

City of Red Deer public works crews use a mixture of sand with minimal salt on icy roads when temperatures are between zero and about -12 C.

Another product called Road Guard is applied to icy streets when the air temperature is between -12 and -20 C.

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