Good Question: Can We Use Snow To Fill Low Lakes?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In Minnesota we have two problems: too much snow piled up and too little water in some of our lakes. So why not solve them both at once? Why can’t we haul our extra snow and dump it in White Bear Lake?

“The logic of that suggestion is hard to ignore,” said White Bear Lake City Manager Mark Sather.

White Bear Lake is at record low levels, at least 5 feet below where it should be. Sather said he’s been getting calls from around the state.

“A lot of people stay here because of lake. They enjoy the lake. Seeing it so low is troubling to most,” he said.

Greg Nohner in Centerville, Minn. shares the common thought: “My question is with the abundance of snow and the state and cities needing to move it, have they thought of piling it on local lakes like White Bear to bring the water levels back up after it melts in the spring?”

“Well it sounds good, if the snow were really clean it might be OK to do it,” said Dale Homuth, regional hydrologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He remembers how cities used to dump snow in rivers and lakes, and how they had to take action against a local shopping mall.

“They were pushing so much snow into a nearby wetland, and it was full of so much sand that it actually filled it in the wetland. We had to make them dig out all the sand,” said Homuth.

Unlike rainwater, snow comes with heavy doses of road salt and ice melting chemicals. And depending on how long the snow sits on the roads or sidewalks, other pollutants can end up in it.

In Minnesota, it’s not exactly illegal to dump snow in a lake, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency could take action if they decide the snow has too much of any banned pollutants.

“If we can’t dump it directly in the lake, one of the thoughts that we are considering is whether there’s an option to dump it near the lake and build a filtering barrier,” said Sather. “The real question, is it worth it? Is there enough water in the snow to justify trucking a lot of it here?”

This was a light, fluffy snow, but by the time it gets packed down and jammed into the back of a semi-truck, the snow will be pretty dense and full of water.

According to Homuth, it still would take a heck of a lot of snow to make an impact.

“It would take at least 50,000 semi loads of water to raise the lake by one foot,” he said.

If they started tomorrow and worked every day through March, it would take 467 truckloads of snow every day. If they worked 24-hours a day, that ends up being 19 truckloads of snow an hour.

“We’d love to have a foot increase in water, but that’s a lot of trucks,” said Sather.

“It would probably be the highest mountain in Minnesota by the time they got enough snow to really affect the lake levels,” noted Homuth.

WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha Reports

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