The Lakes Region will soon be well into spring thaw. Ice out will be called on Winnipesaukee, Gunstock will stop running the lifts, and there will be slush, mud, and water everywhere. As a result, this season can have a significant effect on your property. Here are some things you should know about the spring thaw.
Standing Water and Ice
Melting snow and Ice introduces significant water to our properties in the Lakes Region. In ideal situations, this water can naturally find its way into existing manmade or natural water drainage areas. If you have standing water on your property, there can be a few causes.
In some cases, there isn’t a natural way for the water to drain. This is common in properties where a low spot seems to flood annually and the ground becomes too saturated to remove the excess water. A common way to know if this is occurring on your property is to note if this situation occurs year after year, or after heavy rains. Solutions for these instances may include the addition of material to raise the low spot, the addition of drainage channels or swales, and even drains or pumps.
If a natural or manmade drainage system exists, something is preventing the movement of water to, or through the system. We find the most common causes are the accumulation of ice, snow, or debris. A good way to know if this is the cause of your standing water problem is to note if this is an uncommon occurrence. Does it typically only occur in the spring thaw season? Is there noticeable build-up near the deepest areas of the standing water or around a drain?
When ice, snow, or debris is causing standing water the removal of these items should allow drainage to occur. It is important to address the causes of the build-up to prevent reoccurrences. You must be mindful of keeping drainage areas clean of debris. Take note of how water drains off of your property and ensure that snow is not plowed to amass in that area. If you have catch basins or manmade drains ensure they cleared of debris regularly.
Regardless of the cause, standing water on your property should be addressed provided it is not a protected wetland. Standing water creates a hazard on your property which could leave you liable should someone get hurt. Standing water is a breeding ground for pests like mosquitos. Standing water creates adverse conditions for the growth of many plants including turfgrasses and trees. Standing water problems will lower the value of your property.
Melting snow and Ice can carry pollutants
When snow and ice melts it flows over and through your property, it invariably absorbs different things. Salt, Sand, oils, sediment, and other pollutants the water picks up will either make their way into our watershed or end up in areas on your property as water is absorbed. This sediment and chemicals often have damaging effects.
Water carrying things like salt or chemicals onto your property can lead to the loss of plant life due to a change in soil conditions. Salt, for example, can change your soil Ph levels, or even how your plants can absorb water and conduct photosynthesis. Sand and sediment can change the soil consistency and water retention properties. Oils and chemicals can poison both plant and animal life.
This water can also make its way into our watersheds and ultimately into lakes like Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, Squam and Newfound to name a few. The introduction of these contaminants harms the lake ecosystem and the viability of the lakes we enjoy and depend on. There are ways property owners can help mitigate these problems.
Reduce the amount of salt, ice melt, and sand used on your property. By reducing less of these items to your property, less will be absorbed into the seasonal thaw. It’s exceedingly common for property owners and untrained service providers to over-treat ice to remove it. Overtreatment serves no real functional purpose, is not cost-efficient, and of course, is bad for your property and surroundings. We suggest you utilize only SnowPro certified snow removal experts, or for DIYers to treat sparingly over a few applications. You can always add more, but you cannot easily remove the product once it has been applied.
Next, be mindful of spills, drips, or accumulated sediment on your property. If you can clean up oils, sweep up sands or ice, and generally remove any contaminants before the that has generated water runoff, those items will not be introduced to other areas.
Finally, whenever possible encourage the water from spring thaw to follow pathways where contaminants may be filtered out. This could include municipal stormwater treatment area, or swales and catch basins on your property where the contaminants can be collected and isolated from other areas.
Potholes and Heaves
Potholes are caused by water beneath the ground surface freezing and thawing. As water freezes, it expands, and when the ice melts it contracts. This causes outward, and in the case of potholes vertical pressure and movement of the ground. If you have pavement, concrete, pavers or any sort of solid ground cover, this movement will cause cracks and heaves, while the shifting of material and water will introduce voids, leading to potholes.
The solution to potholes is removing as much water from beneath the immediate surface of the ground as possible and using materials that can help absorb the pressures created in the freeze-thaw cycle. This means utilizing good construction and drainage practices in the construction of hardscaped surfaces. If a driveway, walkway, or patio is to last, the subsurface needs to be prepped appropriately. In many cases, this means the removal of some existing material to allow for the addition of drainage solutions and aggregate as a foundation for preventing potholes, heaves, or cracks.
Be on the lookout for budding life
The thaw coincides with the time when much plant life will begin to “wake up” from winter dormancy. Sometimes this encourages property owners to uncover their plants by removing the accumulated snow thinking this will hasten their growth. Resist this temptation.
In our area snow can help protect budding plants from evenings that are still bitterly cold. Removing the snow will expose these plants to these conditions early, which is detrimental. Simply let nature take its course, and allow the thaw of your gardens to occur naturally. The only time you should take significant action during the thawing season is if there’s clear abnormal and damaging conditions.
You may notice some “early risers” begin to grow in March. Check out this article from the UNH Cooperative Extension to learn more about these plants https://extension.unh.edu/blog/early-risers.
Spring thaw is a wonderful time in New Hampshire, and we hope you’re looking forward to spring as much as we are. As always, if the thaw has created problems or needs for your property we’re here to help.