In the winter, we often receive concerns or complaints of poor snow storage practices on some of our most environmentally sensitive lands – near lakes, streams, and rivers. Snow piles resulting from parking lot and street plowing can contain contaminants including salt, sand, heavy metals, petroleum products, bacteria, pathogens, and pesticides.  When snow piles are stored near waterbodies, they pose a real threat to water quality.

Removing snow from parking lots and roads is critical for public safety, and luckily there are best management practices for snow storage to ensure water quality and public health remain protected.  The following tips, developed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), are intended to guide municipalities, commercial and industrial site managers, and homeowners with snow storage decisions:

  • Snow piles should be away from, and not within, waterbodies, wetlands, floodplains shorelines, and beaches. Piles should be located at least 50 feet away from the ordinary high water mark of any waterbody.
  • Snow piles should not be located in wellhead protection areas. Piles should be 50 feet from your private water supply well and 200 feet from any community water supply well.
  • The best snow pile sites are those that drain to infiltration basins, or vegetated depressions, that trap and filter snowmelt before it enters our water resources.
  • Snow piles should not be near sites such as playgrounds and parks where people can easily be exposed to contaminants.
  • Avoid snow piles in areas where contaminants in snowmelt can be introduced to the groundwater, such as areas of fractured rock surfaces.
  • Storage sites should not have readily erodible soils or be located on bluffs or steep slopes.

Local governments – townships, municipalities, and counties – may have local laws or ordinances that guide snow management activities; check with your local planner or zoning administrator to learn more about potential ordinances in your area.

The State of Michigan also plays a role in ensuring that snow storage practices do not negatively affect our water resources. Part 31 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into Waters of the State when pollutants have the potential to impair our waters. Please report any questionable snow storage practices in or near waterbodies to the Grand Traverse BAYKEEPER®, Heather Smith.

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