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Where Does Stormwater Go in Winter?


As the last leaves fall and days grow shorter, we all get ready for a winter of snow. This is a particularly big topic for every city as they prepare to plow snow, stockpile it, and distribute brine and sand for traction on streets.

You may not think much about stormwater when you’re driving through the wintery weather, but snow is precipitation which becomes stormwater to be managed. Plowed snow can contain pollutants such as salt, sand, oil, grease, heavy metals and trash, which can accumulate in areas where snow is stored and can be released when snow melts.

Disposal of snow directly into streams, rivers and lakes is not allowed. Through proper snow storage and responsible use of brine and sand, our water resources can be protected while assuring public safety. The challenge comes in finding a balance between safety, cost and environmental impacts.

In most winter seasons, the city can accommodate snow storage within the right-of-way and in the corners of parking lots. However, in years with greater snowfall, snowbanks become too large and some snow must be removed to other locations. Vacant city- or county-owned properties have been used for snow storage in the past as long as they are not near lakes, streams or stormwater facilities.

In addition to plowing, the city and highway districts distribute brine and sand for traction at priority locations, such as areas where emergency vehicles operate, steep hills and curves, and intersections with stop signs and lights.

Here are a few things city staff ask citizens to do in order to help the snow management process run smoothly:

• Don’t push or blow snow into the right-of-way. It’s illegal and a hazard.

• Park in your driveway if possible.

• Clear snow around fire hydrants and catch basins to allow access and prevent


• Shovel your sidewalk to give pedestrians a safer place to walk.

• Pick up your dog’s waste when out on walks. Just because you can’t see it under the snow doesn’t mean it goes away.

• Please remember, it drains to the lake.

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