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My Turn: Where should the snow go?

Tips for salmon-friendly snow management

Posted: December 4, 2011 - 1:08am

With record-breaking snowfalls already in November, it could be a big year for snow in Juneau. But amidst all the merriment for skiers, shedders, and sledders, local snow management and snow storage can be tough on water quality for our local salmon streams.

All of our snow has to go somewhere and streams, creeks and wetland areas are often used for snow storage because they are open, low-lying areas. The old method of shoveling snow directly into creeks and streams is now illegal, according to Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, because of potential impacts to water quality from pollutants found in snow from our roads and driveways.

Plowed and shoveled snow can contain oil, grease, sand, salt, garbage, heavy metals, antifreeze, and other chemical pollutants. After the snow melts these pollutants can clog drains, hurt plants and aquatic life, contaminate surface and ground water, alter water quality, and damage fish and salmon habitat.

Juneau’s Lemon Creek, Vanderbilt Creek, Duck Creek, Jordan Creek, and Pederson Hill Creek are all listed by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation as “impaired waterbodies” due to sediment, low dissolved oxygen, fecal coliform bacteria, and turbidity. Although these streams are classified as “impaired” they are still salmon streams and plowing or dumping your snow into these waterways is not only illegal — it’s making a bad water quality issue even worse.

We need to work together as a community to reduce sediment and pollution to these streams and try to keep the rest of our healthy salmon streams off the state’s impaired waterbody list. The following are some tips for “salmon-friendly” snow management to consider when planning your snow storage site this winter.

• Plan ahead. Know where you are going to store your shoveled snow before the next flake falls. Identify a snow storage area that has enough space and drainage to handle the accumulated snow fall as the winter progresses.

• Keep in mind the timing of your snow storage in regards to drainage and snow melt. If you live on a slope, store your first snow at the top of the slope, and then store the next snow fall in various degrees down the slope. This will keep your drainage channel open from snow and debris as long as possible throughout the winter.

• Before we get another heavy snow, try clean your snow storage site to remove any trash or litter out of your drainage channels.

• Keep snow out of salmon streams. Avoid placing snow in sensitive areas such as salmon streams, lakes and wetlands. If your snow storage site is near a stream, lake or wetland, store it at least 50 feet away from the edge of the water way. Planting ground cover and other vegetation between your snow site and the water will also help improve snow filtration and drainage.

• Leave it on your lawn. The best place to store snow is on vegetated site where contaminants and debris can be gradually released, contained or collected. The best place to store your snow is on your lawn, if you have one at your home. If your snow storage site is bare dirt, plant ground cover in the spring to help trap fine sediments, metals and pollutants. Try not to store your snow on a steep slope or on easily erodible soils.

• If you sand your sidewalks or driveway, try to use clean sand (e.g., free of fine materials). Sand itself can cause water quality and habitat impacts, such as filling in of ponds and wetlands and destruction of downstream habitat, but the fine particles mixed in with sand can further increase stream turbidity and carry the majority of pollutants such as phosphorous and metals.

• Be a good neighbor. To avoid flooding and the wrath of your neighbors — do not put your snow in drainage ditches, on other people’s property, or push it back in the way of the city street crews or the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities plows. Use common sense when storing your snow this winter.

Planning ahead for your snow storage this winter can help keep debris and pollutants out of our salmon streams. If you have any questions about these suggestions or would like to learn more about “salmon friendly” snow management, please contact the Juneau Watershed Partnership at 586-6853 or email us at jwp@alaska.net for more information.

• Schoonover is executive director of the Juneau Watershed Partnership.

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