Cutting down on salt: How KAP study expert Karlyn Eckman proved road salt training works

When used as road salt, sodium chloride can be a significant threat to the integrity of freshwater ecosystems. Nearly 70 percent of Minnesota’s road salt ends up in nearby lakes, wetlands and streams where as little as one teaspoon per five gallons of water can be devastating to aquatic life. In addition to their environmental hazards, de-icing chemicals like road salt are costly for municipalities to purchase, store and apply.

But road safety in winter is also important. And Minnesota commuters increasingly depend on the ability to travel around the clock, throughout the year, storm or no storm.

In 2008, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) piloted a 14-month training program for Dakota County snowplow drivers aimed at improving operator effectiveness and reducing the amount of sodium chloride entering nearby lakes and streams. The training program was developed by Connie Fortin of Hamel-based Fortin Consulting, an environmental consulting firm that specializes in water quality projects.

As part of the project, the MPCA turned to Water Resources Center senior researcher Karlyn Eckman, an expert the Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) study method, to evaluate the effectiveness of the training.

KAP is an evaluation tool borrowed from the field of public health that zeros in on a subject’s knowledge, attitudes and practices surrounding a specific issue or problem. Eckman has successfully applied the KAP method to water-related natural resource studies ranging from non-point source pollution to urban storm water management and invasive species control.

“Water resources professionals are trained in hydrology and other biophysical sciences and are not typically exposed to social science research or evaluation tools,” says Eckman. “Yet most water quality issues involve people, who may be either contributing to the problem or be impacted by it.” Eckman says KAP studies can help identify the causal links between human behavior and biophysical impacts.

By administering the KAP study prior to the Dakota County training in 2008 and after the 2008 and 2009 winter maintenance seasons, Eckman was able to document measureable improvements in driver knowledge, attitudes and practices related to specific application activities. The positive changes reported in driver questionnaires and interviews were reinforced by numbers—Dakota Country went through a lot less salt per snow event.

Eckman’s KAP soundly demonstrated that Fortin’s winter maintenance training was effective in changing the actions of snowplow drivers. It also helped Dakota County officials identify where further improvements in training could be made.

As a result, more MPCA snowplow training sessions have been added for municipalities around the state. And Eckman’s road salt study was showcased this year at the Freshwater Society’s Annual Road Salt Symposium.

“KAP is a cost-effective, practical evaluation method that can be learned with training and mentoring, says Eckman, whose training package on social assessment and evaluation of natural resource project will be available on the MPCA’s website later this year.

Karlyn Eckman and her dog PackerNo salt needed: KAP researcher Karlyn Eckman and
her dog Packer on a winter commute.