Developing Snow and Ice Control Best Practices in Maine

Managing snow and ice control includes the careful balancing of critical needs related to public health and safety, cost, and environmental health. If public safety can be maintained and costs decreased while also reducing the impact of chlorides on the environment, then this triple bottom line may be achieved.

A work group facilitated by the Bangor Area Working Group and developed collaboratively with numerous state, regional, nonprofit and consulting partners across the state, worked over several years to develop a field manual that provides options for consideration and presents decision makers with a set of best management practices (BMP) that have the potential to reduce chloride use and potentially limit the impacts of chlorides or abrasives on infrastructure, investments (such as equipment and vehicles) and the environment without reducing the level of service.

The Maine Environmental Best Practices Manual for Snow and Ice Control presents tools and best practices for snow and ice control, when they should be used, and their limitations. It includes suggestions for improved practices, such as anti-icing, pre-wetting, and pretreating, and standard best practices in quality snow and ice control programs that are likely to result in identifying the right amount of product being spread and minimizing reapplication requirements.

The manual establishes clear and consistent guidelines for municipalities and contractors to achieve an acceptable level of safety balanced with cost and environmental impacts of chlorides and abrasives on Maine’s land and water resources by promoting the understanding of the tools, best practices, and limitations for snow and ice control. The manual will also help snow and ice control professionals increase their understanding of when to use and when not to use these tools and practices. In addition, it encourages progressive changes in snow and ice control practices that will help reduce salt and sand use and environmental impacts while meeting the safety and mobility needs of roadway users. By adopting and following the standards, snow and ice control professionals can show due diligence in their snow removal practices.

This manual provides the following information for each BMP:

  • What is the BMP?
  • How does it work?
  • How is the BMP implemented?
  • What are the planning or technical considerations?
  • What are the potential benefits?
  • What is the cost to implement the BMP?
  • Links to additional information.

We encourage you to test, document, and refine the practices from this manual based on your local experiences, and send comments to Maine Local Roads Center for future updates of this manual:

Maine DOT Maine Local Roads Center, Attn: Peter Coughlan – Peter.Coughlan[at]maine[dot]gov

Impacts of chloride pollution include:

Economic impacts to infrastructure and equipment, associated with salt storage, material costs, accidents, commerce and remediation;

Social and Public Safety Impacts associated with crashes, groundwater and drinking water contamination, and mobility on roadways; and

Environmental Impacts from road salts to streams, wetlands, lakes, drinking water, soil, aquatic and semi-aquatic life, roadside vegetation, and urban trees and plants. There are also critical impacts from sand to streams, waterbodies and the air.

For more detail on these impacts, see Appendix A.

Impacts of Increasing Winter Salt on Maine’s Freshwater Resources

Salt on paved surfaces has become part of the winter landscape as we walk on sidewalks and drive on roads. We all know salt is a very effective tool to keep paved surfaces clear of ice/snow, which increases safety for all users. But what happens to salt when it dissolves into melting snow and runs off the pavement? The salty water disappears from view, flows with the runoff from the hard or impervious surface and ends up in groundwater, streams, wetlands, rivers, lakes and bays.

Just like in people, a little salt is fine but too much salt causes an imbalance in freshwater. Most freshwater bodies can receive quite a bit of salt before they reach levels that are unhealthy or toxic for the plants and animals. Salt reaches toxic levels when the concentration of chloride reaches 860 parts per million or mg/L. (By comparison, lead is toxic at 0.01 parts per million). Because the toxic level seemed relatively high, few used to be concerned that the widespread use of salt on roads would result in toxic levels in receiving streams. We now know there is an upward trend for salt concentrations in many northern freshwaters.

Because there are no effective measures for removing dissolved salt from freshwater, it is critical to minimize the amount of salt used. This is the purpose of this BMP manual.

Please refer to the following documents for information.

Learn more about the Bangor Area Stormwater Group (BASWG)’s efforts to improve regional water quality through collaborative stormwater management in our community!