• Milwaukees pilot program uses cheese brine mixed with rock salt to help conserve snow- and ice-fighting costs.

    Credit: Wisconsin Dairy News

    Milwaukee’s pilot program uses cheese brine mixed with rock salt to help conserve snow- and ice-fighting costs.

In a bold experiment, Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works is launching a program to see if cheese brine—in plentiful supply, thanks to all the dairies in the area—might be an effective, efficient way to de-ice roads. The material would be blended with rock salt (ratio: approximately eight gallons of cheese brine to every one ton of rock salt) and spread on roads in the Bay View section of the city, to test the results. If successful, the program could be expanded.

Milwaukee’s snow- and ice-fighting arsenal typically includes salt brine, liquid calcium chloride, and good old-fashioned rock salt. Earlier this year, Alderman Tony Zielinski suggested using cheese brine to help conserve snow-fighting costs, while also dispatching of a waste product that is plentiful in local food manufacturing. A pilot program was approved for his district.

“It’s a win-win situation,” he says. “Obviously, in Wisconsin, we’ve got a lot of cheese brine.”

Sandy Rusch Walton, communications manager for the Milwaukee Department of Public Works, says the cheese brine doesn’t cost the city a thing, save for transportation from F&A Dairy in Dresser, Wis. F&A is the only dairy operation in the state to hold a license from the Department of Natural Resources to provide the brine for this purpose. To date, the cheese of choice for the brine is mozzarella, due to that variety’s relatively high salt content.

The city’s investment is $1,474, which includes the cost to retrofit two salt trucks to dispense the cheese-brined rock salt, and transport the brine back to Milwaukee. The city estimates the total cost to reach $6,500.

This isn’t Milwaukee’s first atttempt to use unconventional snow- and ice fighting materials. From 1999 to 2001, crews used molasses; from 2009 to 2011, they tried GeoMelt 55, a beet juice product now known as Beet 55.

Those alternatives met with mixed results. The molasses concoction gave off a less-than-pleasing aroma. The beet-juice product, when mixed with rock salt, created a goopy, gloppy mess.

City officials and constituents alike are keenly interested in the brine pilot’s results. Public works staff will monitor and record the type and amount of precipitation, the time and day that the solution is applied, temperature, pavement conditions, and other data. Folks living in the area are encouraged to lend their own feedback to the city.

The recorded data and responses will be collected in the spring and shared with the mayor and city council. Then, the various agencies will come together to determine whether they should continue or cut the cheese program.

— Jenni Spinner is a Chicago-based freelancer and former associate editor of Public Works.


By the numbers: Milwaukee’s snow-fighting effort

63,000 tons of available salt
22,000 gallons of liquid calcium chloride
14,000 gallons of salt brine
600 gallons of cheese brine
1,418 miles of paved streets the city is responsible for clearing
52.4 average annual snowfall (in.)
182 number of refuse vehicles used to plow snow
21 dedicated plow trucks
39 sidewalk tractors equipped with plow or snowblower attachments
11 small skid-steer loaders
4 large end-loaders capable of carrying heavy-duty snowblowers
108 salt trucks used for front- line snow and ice control
3 brine trucks used for pre- wetting bridges with salt brine
2 trucks dedicated to cheese-brine pilot program