Too Much Snow? Dumping it in Waterways Is Not the Answer
The Northeastern U.S. has seen more than its fair share of snow this year, and the huge accumulation has created one very big problem: Where should municipalities put all the snow?
It may seem simple enough--add frozen water to a water source shouldn't be a problem, right? But there's a lot more than H2O in the snow plowed from city streets and public areas.Dumping Snow Would Pollute Waterways
Snow might seem clean, but there's a lot of junk in it once it has been removed from roadways, parking lots, and sidewalks.
Fuel, motor oil, salt (lots of it, this year), animal waste, litter, and particulates (such as sand and dirt) are commonly found in plowed snow, and then there are the miscellaneous objects that end up being swept into snow piles -- things like shovels, toys, and even shopping carts.
If communities started dumping snow into waterways they'd essentially be willfully polluting their waterways. Boston Harbor is large and deep, so the chemicals would dilute quickly compared to many other waterways, but it's still difficult to justify.
Another problem, according to the article, is that large chunks can become a hazard for boats, so while it would make roadways safer, it could make waterways more hazardous.
Piles of Snow Shouldn't Be an Emergency
While dumping snow in waterways is typically prohibited, it is allowed in emergency situations. We get it--these communities aren't dealing with a normal amount of snow. But if you can remove snow from streets and pile it somewhere, then half the problem is solved.
The other half is a bit tricky. Eventually those piles may get so big that they pose a risk, either because people could be hurt by chunks that break off, or because it creates massive blind spots for drivers and even pedestrians.
But there are solutions to these problems which do not include dumping snow into waterways: We don't think the situation in the Northeast constitutes an emergency on the scale that communities can justify polluting waterways.
Removing the Risks is Possible
Dumping snow in waterways is not the only solution to the problem of where to put excessive accumulation. Lots of communities truck snow to areas outside of cities. This is better for the environment than dumping snow directly into the water, but still not great--after all, the chemicals end up contaminating the soil, and could end up in the groundwater, and there are the added trucking emissions.
Melting snow is the better alternative. While this is still an emissions producer, it offers the best chance of removing toxins from the ground and water. New York has trucked plenty of snow to facilities for melting, and then they treat the water to remove chemicals. Other communities will melt snow where it sits, allowing the water to flow into storm drains, where, ideally, it is treated before it flows back into waterways.
Removing snow is costly and it can take a lot of planning and money, but it can be done in a way that makes it easier and safer for people without compromising the environment.