A recent article in The Forecaster highlighted the challenges of dealing with dirty snow piled up in blackened hills on our city streets and parking lots. Many communities are asking, “Where will we put the snow from the next storm?” One suggestion has been to dump it into Casco Bay.
While it may be tempting, it is not a good option. “Pure as the driven snow” is anything but. Even as it falls, snow scavenges airborne pollutants from car exhaust and smokestack emissions. Plowed snow contains road salts, motor oil, dirt, pet waste, heavy metals and even cyanide in road salt (to prevent clumping). Snow dumped into the bay sends a toxic shock of chemicals into the water and threatens marine life.
In order to dump snow into the ocean, municipalities must apply to the Maine Department for Environmental Protection (DEP) for a wastewater discharge license. It is illegal to discharge polluted water that will have unacceptable effects on a water body, as well as shellfish beds, fisheries areas, or recreational areas, which pretty much covers all of Casco Bay. To date, the DEP has issued only 10 permits for snow dumping into coastal waters for the entire state.
A clean Casco Bay generates over $450 million a year from tourism, fishing and recreation. We need to be making long-term and wise disposal decisions that will have beneficial effects on the health of the bay, not using the bay as a dump.