Amend New York Conservation Law to Eliminate Pollution Due to Snow-Melt Runoff - RiverU Proposal by Keith Bolt and Harry Liu

An Act to amend the New York State Environmental Conservation Law to strengthen the storm water provisions to eliminate pollution due to snow-melt runoff.

Provisions of Bill:

Harry Liu and Keith Bolt

Harry Liu and Keith Bolt

  • The Snow Runoff Pollution Prevention Act will require that all snow piled in parking lots within one hundred feet of a New York State waterway and all snow transported to an alternate location must, by law, be disposed of at a New York State approved treatment site.
  • All collected and uncollected snow discharged directly into New York State waterways will be regulated as storm water by New York State pursuant to the provisions of the Clean Water Act.
  • Municipalities will be responsible for developing a snow removal plan that will be submitted for approval to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
  • Municipalities will be responsible for transporting collected snow to approved collection and treatment sites.

Justification of Bill:

Snow that accumulates on municipal streets is not clean. It is polluted water, as evidenced by spring snowmelts that leave behind a mess of trash, animal wastes, sand, sediment and more.  But much of these wastes are carried off with melting snow runoff and find their way into New York State waterways. In addition, this polluted snow is often collected by municipalities and dumped directly into nearby waterways. While such practices are technically regulated by law, in reality large scale dumping of accumulated snow is common and evades the provisions of law, thus requiring new regulations

  • Polluted snowmelt that enters waterways is detrimental to people.

Heavy metals and chemicals that are contained in snow find their way into public water supplies. Trash that enters New York State waterways through snowmelt runoff threatens drinking water sources and recreational waters and negatively affects the aesthetic beauty of waterways.

  • Direct dumping of snow into waterways violates the Clean Water Act but enforcement is problematic.

According to the Clean Water Act, the direct dumping of polluted stormwater is into waterways without a permit is illegal.  The Clean Water Act defines stormwater as rain and snow that is not soaked into the ground. However, this provision of the law has been vaguely interpreted allowing snow to be disposed indiscriminately.

  • Polluted snowmelt is detrimental to aquatic organisms.

Pollutants such as road sand enter New York State waters suspended in snowmelt runoff unregulated in massive, immeasurable quantities. These pollutants destroy spawning habitats for fish and other organisms.  For example, sand and silt choke fish eggs and alter riverbed habitat.

  • States must take action to manage the disposal of snow.

The Clean Water Act’s snow dumping provisions are not enforced. Municipalities commonly discharge snow directly into waterways without a permit without facing repercussions. The Clean Water Act allows for individual states to write their own laws that are stricter than Federal laws. An example of a state writing a piece of strict snow disposal legislation is Maine. Chapter 573 of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection “regulates the conditions which snow dumps must meet in order to be exempt from having to obtain a waste discharge license”.  It requires that snow dump sites are cleaned once the snow melts in spring.  In addition, Chapter 573 allows Maine snow disposers to obtain an EPA discharge permit for direct dumping of snow into waterways “only if no practicable alternative up-land location exists for the snow dump”.

 Cost And Design of Snow Treatment Sites

  • The cost of snow treatment will depend on each individual site’s circumstances.

Under the Federal Clean Water Act, typically state environmental engineers use their best professional judgment in approving storm water disposal and will be required to do so for local snow treatment systems.One possible snow treatment devise is an evaporation basin, which eliminate one hundred percent of pollution contained in snow. Evaporation of water as wastewater treatment has been used for thousands of years.  It has gone out of favor because of the smell it is associated with.  Because snow does not carry the same unpleasant odor of sewage, evaporation treatment is applicable. Trash and suspended sediments like sand are removed from wastewater through both evaporation treatment and conventional wastewater treatment processes.  However, unlike conventional wastewater treatment, all dissolved elements of the wastewater are left behind in the evaporation treatment process. When the snow evaporates away, what is left is a mixture of salts, sands, sediments, and trash.  These materials are easily vacuumed and collected into containers that are then disposed of in land-based facilities in the most appropriate manner available.

Arguments in Opposition:

The argument can be made that the Snow Runoff Pollution Prevention Bill is not needed.  Some would argue the Clean Water Act already regulates snow runoff and disposal because it bans the direct discharge of stormwater into waterways without a permit and considers both rain and melted snow as stormwater runoff.   However, policy developed since the Clean Water Act has treated snow and rain as separate entities.  Federal authorities do not actively regulate the direct dumping of snow into waterways.  In addition, nonpoint snow pollution that is not regulated by the Clean Water Act is regulated by the One-Hundred-Feet-Removal provision in the proposed Snow Runoff Pollution Prevention Bill.  Because snow is not adequately regulated and enforced by the Clean Water Act, a new piece of legislation similar to Maine DEP’s Chapter 573 is needed to address snowmelt runoff pollution in New York State.


Snow is not clean.  By strengthening the regulation of  snowmelt runoff and banning direct snow discharge into waterways, The Snow Runoff Pollution Prevention Act will help curb the detrimental effects of snow pollution on humans and the environment.