"Cheese brine is not an alternative to salt, it's just a cheaper version," he said, adding that it's mixed with salt to conserve supplies. "In Wisconsin, it's a waste product. For us, it can be used on the roads. Someone can give it to us. We ask them to filter and deliver it, and we use it. ... We're doing them a favor. It's just another material that we can use with salt to treat the snow and ice that's supposed to be close to free."
The brine is effective because it works at a lower temperature than normal salt, said Emil Norby, technical support manager at the Polk County Highway Department.
In 2011, Bergen County, New Jersey, officials used a mixture of salt and water that resembles pickle juice and costs significantly less than salt, former county Public Works Director Joe Crifasi told CNN affiliate WCBS. The county also had an exceptionally snowy winter this year.
Other alternatives to salt have included liquid byproducts, including beer waste and beet juice, according to a study by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, a New York state-based environmental group.
Some communities are dealing with high costs for both salt and overtime for plow drivers.
In Oak Park, Illinois, salt is three times the normal price because of high demand this winter, and overtime for plow workers is adding up.
The New Jersey DOT reports that it has spent more than $82 million for snow and ice removal through February 11 of this year, compared with $62 million spent all of last year's winter season.
Even before the last storm, more than 372,000 tons of salt had been used in New Jersey this winter, compared with "last year's 258,000 tons for the whole winter," Dee said.