This guide will help communities and businesses dispose of plowed snow without harming the environment. The guide includes a link to an interactive map to locate snow disposal sites.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s Snow Disposal Guidance offers information on the proper steps to take when locating sites for the disposal of snow. Finding a place to dispose of collected snow poses a challenge to municipalities and businesses as they clear roads, parking lots, bridges, and sidewalks. Public safety is of the utmost importance. However, care must be taken to ensure that collected snow, which may be contaminated with road salt, sand, litter, and automotive pollutants such as oil, is disposed of in a manner that will minimize threats to nearby sensitive resource areas.
In order to avoid potential contamination to wetlands, water supplies, and waterbodies, MassDEP recommends that municipalities and businesses identify and map appropriate upland snow disposal locations. To assist municipalities and businesses in this planning effort, and to avoid use of snow disposal at sites which compromise wetlands resources or public water supplies, MassDEP has developed this snow disposal mapping tool:
If a community or business demonstrates that there is no remaining capacity at upland snow disposal locations, local conservation commissions are authorized to issue Emergency Certifications under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act for snow disposal in certain wetland resource areas. In such cases, Emergency Certifications can only be issued at the request of a public agency or by order of a public agency for the protection of the health or safety of citizens, and are limited to those activities necessary to abate the emergency.
In the event of a regional or statewide severe weather event, MassDEP may also issue a broader Emergency Declaration under the Wetlands Protect Act which allows greater flexibility in snow disposal practices. Details of this approval process are found below.
Key Actions for Overview
Snow Disposal Guidance
Effective Date: December 21, 2015
Applicability: Applies to all federal, state, regional and local agencies, as well as to private businesses.
Supersedes: BRP Snow Disposal Guideline No. BRPG01-01 issued March 8, 2001, and all previous snow disposal guidance.
Approved by: Douglas Fine, Assistant Commissioner for Water
PURPOSE: To provide guidelines to all government agencies and private businesses regarding snow disposal site selection, site preparation and maintenance, and emergency snow disposal options that are protective of wetlands, drinking water, and water bodies, and are acceptable to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), Bureau of Water Resources.
APPLICABILITY: These Guidelines are issued by MassDEP’s Bureau of Water Resources on behalf of all Bureau Programs (including Drinking Water Supply, Wetlands and Waterways, Wastewater Management, and Watershed Planning and Permitting). They apply to public agencies and private businesses disposing of snow in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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. Everything we do on the land has the potential to impact our water resources. Given the authority of local government over the use of the land, municipal officials and staff have a critically important role to play in protecting our water resources.
The purpose of these guidelines is to help municipalities and businesses select, prepare, and maintain appropriate snow disposal sites before the snow begins to accumulate through the winter. Following these guidelines and obtaining the necessary approvals may also help municipalities in cases when seeking reimbursement for snow disposal costs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is possible.
These snow disposal guidelines address: (1) site selection; (2) site preparation and maintenance; and (3) emergency snow disposal.
1. SITE SELECTION
The key to selecting effective snow disposal sites is to locate them adjacent to or on pervious surfaces in upland areas or upland locations on impervious surfaces that have functioning and maintained storm water management systems away from water resources and drinking water 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 importing snow from outside 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. Only snow from within the Zone II or IWPA should be disposed of within this resource area so as not to increase the potential for pollution of water supplies.
- 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.
- 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, 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..
Recommended 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 may be 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)..
MassDEP has an online mapping tool to assist municipalities and businesses in identifying possible locations to potentially dispose of snow, should the need arise. The disposal locations depicted on these maps will also aid MassDEP and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency assist communities with snow disposal in the event of severe winter storm emergencies. The tool identifies wetland resource areas, public drinking water supplies and other sensitive locations where snow should not be disposed. The tool may be accessed through the Internet at the following web address:
By clicking on the link for the OLIVER Online Data Viewer, communities can select your town and overlay different resource areas. The MassGIS site includes MassDEP orthophoto maps depicting local wetland resources, hard copies of which were mailed to each Conservation Commission in the past.
2. 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, wherever possible 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.
3. SNOW DISPOSAL APPROVALS
Proper snow disposal may be undertaken through one of the following approval procedures:
- Routine snow disposal – Minimal, if any, administrative review is required in these cases when upland and pervious snow disposal locations or upland locations on impervious surfaces that have functioning and maintained storm water management systems have been identified, mapped, and used for snow disposal following ordinary snowfalls. Use of upland and pervious snow disposal sites avoids wetland resource areas and allows snow meltwater to recharge groundwater and will help filter pollutants, sand, and other debris. This process will address the majority of snow removal efforts until a community exhausts all available upland snow disposal sites. The location and mapping of snow disposal sites will help facilitate each municipality’s routine snow management efforts.
- Emergency Certifications – If a community or business demonstrates that there is no remaining capacity at upland snow disposal locations, local conservation commissions are authorized to issue Emergency Certifications under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act for snow disposal in buffer zones to wetlands, certain open water areas, and certain wetland resource areas, i.e. within flood plains. In such cases, Emergency Certifications can only be issued at the request of a public agency for the protection of the health or safety of citizens or by order of a public agency, and limited to those activities necessary to abate the emergency. 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 salt marshes, 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.
- Emergency Declarations – In the event of a large-scale severe weather event, MassDEP may issue a broader Emergency Declaration under the Wetlands Protection Act which allows municipalities greater flexibility in snow disposal practices. Emergency Declarations typically authorize greater snow disposal options while protecting especially sensitive resources such as public drinking water supplies, vernal pools, land containing shellfish, FEMA designated floodways, coastal dunes, and salt marsh. In the event of severe winter storm emergencies, the snow disposal site maps created by municipalities will assist MassDEP and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in helping communities identify appropriate snow disposal locations.
If upland disposal sites have been exhausted, the Emergency Declaration issued by MassDEP allows for snow disposal near water bodies. A buffer of at least 50 feet, preferably vegetated, 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, the Emergency Declaration issued by MassDEP may allow disposal of snow in certain waterbodies under certain conditions. A municipality seeking to dispose of snow in a waterbody should take the following steps:
- Call the emergency contact phone number - 1-888-304-1133 - and notify the MEMA bunker personnel of the municipality’s intent.
- The MEMA bunker personnel will ask for some information about where the requested disposal will take place.
- The MEMA bunker personnel will confirm that the disposal is consistent with MassDEP’s Emergency Declaration and these guidelines and is therefore approved.
During declared statewide snow emergency events, MassDEP’s website will also highlight the emergency contact phone number (1-888-304-1133) for authorizations and inquiries. For further non-emergency information about this Guidance you may contact your MassDEP Regional Office Service Center:
Northeast Regional Office, Wilmington, 978-694-3249
Southeast Regional Office, Lakeville, 508-946-2714
Central Regional Office, Worcester, 508-767-2722
Western Regional Office, Springfield, 413-784-1100