U.S. Water News Online
PHILADELPHIA -- As cities in the Northeast dig out from a
powerful winter storm, many are using local rivers to dump tons of
plowed snow that doesn't fit in parking lots or other urban spaces.
Some scientists say the river dumping carries an environmental
risk. In Pennsylvania, for example, the accumulated snow could harm a
sensitive insect species at the bottom of the food chain.
Robert East Jr., a biologist and director of environmental studies
at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., said stone
flies -- just beginning to emerge in Pennsylvania's rivers -- could
be threatened by the salts used to melt snow along the state's
``They're very sensitive to water quality, so any sort of
pollution that they experience now -- nitrates, phosphates,
chlorides, salts -- could devastate them,'' East said. ``These
organisms are important as part of the food chain in the streams.
They break down leaves, they provide organic matter, and they're also
part of the food chain for trout, large mouth bass, a lot of our game
With little space to pile accumulated snow, Philadelphia officials
decided to dump it into the city's rivers. Christine Ottow, a
spokeswoman for Philadelphia's mayor's office, called dumping the
snow in the river a ``last resort.'' The city was buried under 18
inches of snow in the recent storm.
``But in this case it's just too much,'' Ottow said. ``And if we
don't get it out of here, when it starts to melt we'll have flooding
-- in which case we'd probably have runoff going in anyway.''
While Pennsylvania and West Virginia have no rules that prohibit
dumping snow into rivers and streams, other states do, including
Maryland and Massachusetts.
New Jersey also prohibits dumping, but the ban was temporarily
lifted after Gov. James E. McGreevey declared a state of emergency
following the storm. New Jersey Department of Environmental
Protection spokesman Al Ivany said Paterson, Jersey City, Newark and
Stockton all received permission to dump snow into rivers.
Likewise, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
granted a waiver to the Coast Guard to dump snow from its base into
``It's a confined area, and they have good control over what they
have on the base itself (to treat snow),'' said Massachusetts DEP
spokesman Ed Coletta.
In New York City, Department of Sanitation spokesman Vito Turso
said the department stopped dumping snow into the East and Hudson
rivers and New York harbor after a 1996 blizzard because of worries
over pollution from rock salt and debris.
River and watershed groups said snow should be hauled away.
``Our preference is for this stuff to be dumped on open land where
it can at least not go directly into rivers,'' said Tom Miner,
executive director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council in
But Dennis Buterbaugh, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department
of Environmental Protection, said rivers typically are higher in the
winter and better able to handle additional salt levels.
Dale Bruns, professor of geoenvironmental sciences at Wilkes
University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., said taking the snow to larger
rivers, such as the Susquehanna or the Schuylkill in Pennsylvania,
might mitigate the threat from the high chloride levels.
``In Pennsylvania, a lot of our roads go right along the stream,
and with a normal snow, that snow and salt is going to wash right off
into the stream,'' Bruns said. ``If, with a storm like this, they're
taking it away, hauling it off to some bigger river, that might serve
to dilute the salt and mitigate the effect.''
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