Snow Disposal

Adapted from the MassDEP Snow Disposal Guidance

Image of snow disposal


Finding a place to dispose of collected snow poses a challenge to municipalities and businesses as they clear roads, parking lots, bridges, and sidewalks. While we are all aware of the threats to public safety caused by snow, collected snow that is contaminated with road salt, sand, litter, and automotive pollutants such as oil also threatens public health and the environment.

As snow melts, road salt, sand, litter, and other pollutants 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 waterbodies can create sand bars or fill in wetlands and ponds, impacting aquatic life, causing flooding, and affecting our use of these resources.

There are several steps that communities can take to minimize the impacts of snow disposal on public health and the environment. These steps will help communities avoid the costs of a contaminated water supply, degraded waterbodies, and flooding.

The guidelines below are intended to help municipalities and businesses select, prepare, and maintain appropriate snow disposal sites before the snow begins to accumulate through the winter.

Site Selection

The key to selecting effective snow disposal sites is to locate them adjacent to or on pervious surfaces in upland areas away from water resources and wells. At these locations, the snow meltwater can filter in to the soil, leaving behind sand and debris which can be removed in the springtime. The following areas should be avoided:
  • Avoid dumping of snow into any waterbody, 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 a Zone II or Interim Wellhead Protection Area (IWPA) of a public water supply 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 (see the next page for information on ordering maps from MassGIS showing the locations of aquifers, Zone II's, and IWPAs in your community).
  • Avoid dumping snow in sanitary landfills and gravel pits. Snow meltwater will create more contaminated leachate in landfills posing a greater risk to groundwater, and 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 drain 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.
Site Selection Procedures
It is important that the municipal Department of Public Works or Highway Department, Conservation Commission, and Board of Health work together to select appropriate snow disposal sites. The following steps should be taken:
  • Estimate how much snow disposal capacity is needed for the season so that an adequate number of disposal sites can be selected and prepared.
  • Identify sites that could potentially be used for snow disposal such as municipal open space (e.g., parking lots or parks).
  • Sites located in upland locations that are not likely to impact sensitive environmental resources should be selected first.
  • If more storage space is still needed, prioritize the sites with the least environmental impact (using the site selection criteria, and local or MassGIS maps as a guide).

Site Preparation and Maintenance

In addition to carefully selecting disposal sites before the winter begins, it is important to prepare and maintain these sites to maximize their effectiveness. The following maintenance measures should be undertaken for all snow disposal sites:
  • A silt fence or equivalent barrier should be placed securely on the downgradient side of the snow disposal site.
  • To filter pollutants out of the meltwater, a 50-foot vegetative buffer strip should be maintained during the growth season between the disposal site and adjacent waterbodies.
  • Debris should be cleared from the site prior to using the site for snow disposal.
  • Debris should be cleared from the site and properly disposed of at the end of the snow season and no later than May 15.

Emergency Snow Disposal

As mentioned earlier, it is important to estimate the amount of snow disposal capacity you will need so that an adequate number of upland disposal sites can be selected and prepared. If despite your planning, upland disposal sites have been exhausted, snow may be disposed of near waterbodies. A vegetated buffer of at least 50 feet should still be maintained between the site and the waterbody in these situations. Furthermore, it is essential that the other guidelines for preparing and maintaining snow disposal sites be followed to minimize the threat to adjacent waterbodies. 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 waterbodies under certain conditions. In these dire situations, notify your Conservation Commission and the appropriate MassDEP Regional Service Center before disposing of snow in a waterbody. Use the following guidelines in these emergency situations:
  • Dispose of snow in open water with adequate flow and mixing to prevent ice dams from forming.
  • Do not dispose of snow in saltmarshes, vegetated wetlands, certified vernal pools, shellfish beds, mudflats, drinking water reservoirs and their tributaries, Zone IIs or IWPAs of 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.
  • Consult with the municipal Conservation Commission to ensure that snow disposal in open water complies with local ordinances and bylaws.

For More Information

If you need more information, contact one of MassDEP's Regional Service Centers:
Northeast Regional Office, Wilmington, 978-694-3200
Southeast Regional Office, Lakeville, 508-946-2714
Central Regional Office, Worcester, 508-792-7683
Western Regional Office, Springfield, 413-755-2214