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Bragging about brine

  • SIMA
- Posted: March 13, 2018
By Cheryl Higley

Charles & Jerry (297x400)
Cuyahoga Falls Street Commissioner Charles Novak (left) and Assistant Superintendent Jerry Crawford.

Cuyahoga Falls By the Numbers
  • Avg. # of Snow Events: 30
  • Average Snowfall: 67.48 inches
  • Estimated Salt Savings 2005-16: $3.5 million
  • 10-year Average Brine Use: 1,600,200 gallons
  • 10-year Average Salt Use: 10,540 tons

For more than 40 years, the City of Cuyahoga Falls, OH, has seen the promise of using brine as a salt management tool. But its adoption of liquids as the primary deicing agent for the city of 50,000 has come in the last 15 years under the guidance of Street Commissioner Charles Novak.

“When the street department first got into it in the 1970s, they didn’t really know the science behind using brine. There was a lot of experimentation,” he says. 

Brine started to take a more prominent role in the 1970s when the city began tapping its brine well. In the 1980s the street department began to use hook lift trucks, which would allow it to switch from solid to liquid applications. Little by little, a more educated approach and better equipment have allowed the city to dramatically reduce the amount of rock salt being applied to its 500 lane miles.

Novak says the department has moved to mostly combination trucks capable of spreading salt and/or liquids with the flip of a switch.

Brine Pond_edited (300x206)
Cuyahoga Falls brine trucks are able to load directly from the city’s perfectly salinated brine pond. 

Economically smart choice
Although the city has been at the forefront of liquid use, Novak says the need to more fully embrace the use of liquids as a prewet for rock salt and as an anti-icing agent came after three harsh winters saw the city’s salt use skyrocket and its supply drop. 

“Next to payroll, salt is our biggest expense. When I started, we would budget for 18,000 tons of salt each season; now, I budget for about 10,500 tons. And our 10-year average for brine use is 1.6 million gallons. It proves our liquids program is working,” he says, noting detailed data tracking helps him justify his budget requests to fund equipment purchases.

According to Novak’s records, the department has saved $3.5 million in salt costs compared to the approximately $1.2 million in equipment purchases since 2005. Overall, salt use has dropped 30%. 

Today the city has the capacity to store 45,000 gallons of liquid and 8,000 tons of salt at its main storage depot; a secondary location stores 35,000 gallons of liquid and a 2,000-ton salt storage facility.

Novak says the department continues to experiment, including testing non-chlorides as an additive and refining the best option for pre-wetting with brine. 

The department has been investing more in combination truck systems that prewet the salt below the spinner. Assistant Superintendent Jerry Crawford says that using trucks that mix brine at the spinner becomes ineffective below 15°F since the salt tends to plug up the chutes. The combination trucks can be used until it gets closer to 0°F. 

Crawford says not every storm is conducive to a heavy reliance on brine.

“It’s the learning ‘when to and when not to’ that gets tricky,” he says, noting variables such as storm timing, surface and air temperatures, and future forecasts. “Mechanical removal is always our first choice, but if we can anti-ice and help prevent that bond, it makes the drivers’ jobs easier and we can use less salt.”

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Drivers adjust brine patterns and nozzles for the preferred applications, depending on the location, such as anti-icing for roads, curb lines or sidewalks. 

Environmental impact
Although the predominant reason for the liquid revolution was economical, the environmental impact can’t be overlooked. 

“The Cuyahoga River runs through the city. We need to make sure we’re doing what we can to ensure fewer chlorides are making their way into the environment,” Novak says. 

This graph shows the progress Cuyahoga Falls has made in reducing salt use since it began adding brine to its salt management toolbox:
Baby steps can make a difference
It is no secret that the private snow and ice management industry has been slower to embrace use of brine as a salt management tool than some municipalities. Although municipalities may have access to larger capital budgets, that doesn’t mean processes can’t be improved and cost savings realized - even on a smaller scale. 

Regardless of your budget, the science is the same. Salt needs liquid to activate; brine can jumpstart the process. Learn more about how you can start implementing liquids into your snow operations by downloading the free Sustainable Salt Best Practices document at

After 15 min (300x211)
Brine application after 15 minutes.

Cheryl Higley is editorial director of SIMA/Snow Business magazine. Email her at
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