Winter Reminder: Snow Can Not be Disposed of in Wetland Areas

Published February 3, 2011 | Conservation Office | Updated March 31, 2015 | Automatically Archived on 4/10/2015

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State Snow Disposal Policy Protects Sensitive Environmental Resources

Environment officials remind communities, businesses to avoid harming drinking water wells, waterways, wetlands

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BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) reminds all municipal, business and private snow plow operators to safely move and dispose of snow in a manner that avoids any potential negative consequences for drinking water wells, waterways or wetlands.

MassDEP’s snow disposal guidelines apply to all public agencies and private businesses disposing of snow in the Commonwealth.

“The winter has already left behind some impressive snowfall amounts, so it is important to remind anyone moving or plowing snow that there are critical environmental considerations to keep in mind concerning snow disposal and important public health concerns that may need to be addressed,” said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell.

Finding a place to dispose of collected snow poses a challenge to municipalities and businesses, especially those in urban areas. Potential public safety issues certainly necessitate the removal of snow, but the process of collecting and plowing also results in the snow becoming contaminated with road salt, sand, litter, and automotive pollutants such as oil, which can also threaten public health and the environment.

As snow melts, these contaminants are transported into surface water or through the soil where they may eventually reach the groundwater. Road salt and other pollutants can contaminate water supplies and are toxic to aquatic life at certain levels. Sand washed into water bodies can create sand bars or fill in wetlands and ponds, impacting aquatic life, causing flooding, and affecting our use of these resources.
Here are a few snow disposal guidelines:

  • Avoid dumping snow into any water body, including rivers, the ocean, reservoirs, ponds, or wetlands. In addition to water quality impacts and flooding, snow disposed of in open water can cause navigational hazards when it freezes into ice blocks.
  • Do not dump snow within the protective zone two* of the public water supply well (a critical area of an aquifer which contributes water to a well) or within 75 feet of a private well, where road salt may contaminate water supplies.
  • Avoid dumping snow on MassDEP-designated high and medium-yield aquifers where it may contaminate groundwater.
  • Avoid dumping snow in sanitary landfills and gravel pits. Snow meltwater will create more contaminated leachate in landfills, posing a greater risk to groundwater. In gravel pits, there is little opportunity for pollutants to be filtered out of the meltwater because groundwater is close to the land surface.
  • Avoid disposing of snow on top of storm drains, catch basins or in stormwater drainage swales or ditches. Snow combined with sand and debris may block a storm drainage system, causing localized flooding. A high volume of sand, sediment, and litter released from melting snow also may be quickly transported through the system into surface water.

Possible locations, or approved sites – which most communities have pre-selected prior to the start of the winter season – include: municipal open space (parking lots or parks); and sites located in upland locations that are not likely to impact sensitive environmental resources. If more storage space is still needed, prioritize the sites with the least environmental impact.

Under extraordinary conditions, when all land-based snow disposal options are exhausted, disposal of snow that is not obviously contaminated with road salt, sand, and other pollutants may be allowed in certain water bodies under certain conditions. In these dire situations, notify the local Conservation Commission and one of the appropriate MassDEP regional offices before disposing of snow in a water body: Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington, 978-694-3200; Southeast Regional Office in Lakeville, 508-946-2714; Central Regional Office in Worcester, 508-792-7683; and Western Regional Office in Springfield, 413-755-2214.

  • Only dispose of snow in open water with adequate flow and mixing to prevent ice dams from forming.
  • Do not dispose of snow in salt marshes, vegetated wetlands, certified vernal pools, shellfish beds, mudflats, drinking water reservoirs and their tributaries, and the protective zone two of any public water supply wells*, Outstanding Resource Waters, or Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.
  • Do not dispose of snow where trucks may cause shoreline damage or erosion.
    MassDEP is responsible for ensuring clean air and water, safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills, and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources.

*A definition of water supply protective areas can be found here.

MassDEP is responsible for ensuring clean air and water, safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills, and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources.

Contact the Conservation Commission with any questions at 978-440-5471, or [email protected]