As Cuyahoga County bundles up for more snow this week it may seem like these piles of white cold stuff are just burdens and obstacles that will never go away. Well, it’s February - so just keep visualizing “it’s six more months ‘til summer, it’s six more months ‘til summer.” And despite what your sore back from shoveling and your cold fingertips are telling you, the snow will indeed eventually go away.
But where does it go? Many people don’t realize that everything on the ground around is connected to your local stream. Any time it rains, anything in or on the ground – salt, deicer, litter, cigarette butts, plastic bags, oil on the driveway, dog poop – gets washed down the local storm drain or into the closest drainage ditch. From there it makes its way into either a trash trap (which must be cleaned out) or right into the river.
Snowmelt can intensify these effects especially as weather patterns become more erratic and severe due to climate change. Inches or feet of snow equals large volumes of water sitting on the ground all across the landscape. Normally that snow builds up slowly and then melts slowly in the spring, releasing all that water in at a steady pace that downstream systems can handle. However with climate change altering weather patterns we are seeing more large, sudden storms that deposit large amounts of snow in short timeframes. Similarly, climate change causes more sudden ups and downs in temperatures and when it gets warm quickly all that snow can melt very quickly. Those large volumes of water can rush downstream carrying huge amounts of pollutants, eroding stream banks due to the force of so much water melting at once and causing flooding in low-lying areas.
So what can YOU do? Addressing the issue is a year-round concern. Before the snow falls we can pick up litter, bag your dog poop (and even bag other people’s dog poop!), not wash your car in the driveway, and compost your leaves. When the snow is already on the ground be sure to remove as much as you can manually (with your shovel or snowblower) and apply salt or deicer sensibly. If we all chip in just a little bit with these easy measures they add up to big changes across the landscape, and we’ll see snowmelts in spring bringing fewer pollutants to our rivers and streams.
Blog Author: Meg Hennessey, Watershed Coordinator