As a result of record snowfall in Massachusetts over the last few weeks, there’s an issue of where to put the snow piling up in storage fields, and now, there is talk of dumping excess snow into our rivers and Boston Harbor.
While we recognize that a true public emergency may necessitate this, Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) is opposed to dumping snow into waterbodies because of the salt, sand, car chemicals and detritus the snow contains, as well as the fragile environment and sensitive receptors found in rivers and estuaries.
There are a number of things to consider before dumping the snow into a water body:
- Common road treatment and snow removal materials include sodium chloride, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and sand. Additionally, snow piles collect trash, animal waste, gravel, car exhaust and oil. When snow is dumped directly into a water body, pollutants are vastly more concentrated than when they are discharged during rain events, and polluted snow in or near frozen rivers and bays become contaminated ice chunks. Consequently, the environmental impacts of these contaminants are also concentrated.
- Snow “farms,” where the snow is piled, are generally located in areas where there are few stormdrains, so as the snow melts, there is a chance to collect and appropriately dispose of the detritus, and the salts and chemicals can be swept up to some extent, and diluted over time. This is why snow melters, although they require a great deal of energy to operate, are far more environmentally protective.
The use of green infrastructure and other low impact techniques can also help naturally filter contaminants from stormwater and snowmelt before it is discharged into receiving waterbodies. Since 2006, CRWA has incorporated the use of such techniques in the Charles River watershed through its Blue Cities Initiative, which works to restore the Charles River by mimicking the way nature handles water.
As a further caution, we would add that if we get rain while we still have a significant snowpack, the likelihood of flooding increases. All of us should anticipate the probability of at least some flooding associated with rain and melting this spring.
With an increase in severe weather events, we need to take a closer look at how communities “live” with water in order to become more resilient in the face of climate change. CRWA Executive Director explores more on this topic in our new blog series, “Water Transformation,” that reimagines and rethinks water infrastructure.