Melting winter: The destiny of Moscow snow

December 27, 2020
Municipal services

It is the snowy season in Moscow. About 11 cm has already fallen this month and, according to the weather forecasts, more is on the way. Snow removal services have been ploughing through masses of snow and distribuing it between 56 snow-melting centres, 35 of which  are supervised by Mosvodokanal.  visited a snow-melting station in northeastern Moscow to see how the loads of snow are delivered, counted and then melted.

Counting snowflakes

Lorries full of snow enter the territory of a snow-melting station in the Northeastern Administrative Area. It is a facility surrounded by garages and construction sites on Selskokhozyaistvennaya Street. Local workers wearing helmets size up the piles of snow  and let the vehicles pass.

“Soft snow comes from ‘golden hands.’ It is our nickname for snowplough scoops. They break up the snow pretty well, which makes it easier to crush later. Shoveling snow makes it too dense and firm,” explains Igor Danko, the senior foreman of Mosvodokanal’s Snow-Melting Centre Operation Service.

Igor Danko, senior foreman of the Snow-Melting Centre Operation Service, Mosvodokanal. Photo by Maxim Denisov,

This season, managing the ‘avalanche’ of snow lorries has become much easier thanks to smart laser scanners installed at the entrance gate that can determine the amount of snow automatically. The device can measure the volume of snow in cubic metres and transmit the data to the control room within just seconds. The foreman will record the amount of snow delivered and issue the driver with a receipt. The scanners were installed last year; however, because there was very little snow last winter, there was no way to properly test and fine-tune the equipment.

“We are keeping records of the snow we process because its next stop is Moscow’s wastewater treatment facilities. For example, in the morning we take in 13 lorries carrying 20 cubic metres of snow each. Some vehicles can bring up to 48 cubic metres. That’s for example, the Tonar giant two-level tipper lorries. They usually arrive from Sheremetyevo Airport when there are snowdrifts,” Igor Danko explains.  

Conveyor belt for snow

Once the snow has been measured, lorries dump it into a crusher.

“When large tipper lorries are emptying their loads, the noise is unbelievable,” Igor Danko laughs. Then the soggy mass of snow from Moscow streets travels through a grid into a grit catcher to filter out any dirt, sand, rubbish and chemicals. Then the snow is melted by sewage water which is never below 10 degrees Celsius. The snow slush will then go through two underground filters where it will become sewage water and be picked up by a mainline sewage collector (a 3.5-metre pipe). Eventually, it will end up at one of the city’s wastewater facilities. 

“This is how snow goes full circle,” Igor Danko says.

Mosvodokanal workers recall that many years ago, before the first snow-melting stations opened in Moscow, snow had had to be dumped into the rivers, along with bottles, plastic bags and other rubbish that may have got stuck in it. These days, Moscow water reservoirs are much cleaner.

“Because Moscow is located in a very distinct climatic zone, it is the only metropolitan area in the world where snow removal is conducted on such a broad scale. Recently, we even had visitors from Germany who wanted to learn from our experience,” says the senior foreman.

Helping avoid slips and falls

Mosvodokanal workers admit: when there is no snowfall, they really do get rather bored. They freeze without work. They even miss snow when they are off duty. “Last winter was no good. I remember, I took my children to a snow slide. They basically slid in fallen leaves. Is that real winter, I ask you?” Igor Danko complains.

But when it’s snowing, the snow-melting stations are knee-deep in work. There was a winter when snow continued to fall until 26 April. It can even happen that over 24 hours and four shifts, the station has to cope with 300 lorries with 7,000 cubic metres of snow. There are three workers per shift who have to work without breaks even to eat.

“There is a phrase in Russian: like a pile of snow on your head. When there’s a blizzard or a snow storm, we have to be well prepared and usually the snow removal services are given up to three days to clear any major snowdrift,” Igor Danko continues.

The workers recall that a couple of years ago now, almost 60 cm of snow fell in just two days. There was a long line of lorries all full of piles of snow towering over the road from Selskokhozyaistvennaya Street to Botanicheskaya Street. There has not been much snow in Moscow this year, but about 30 to 40 cm of precipitation is expected by New Year.

Igor Danko is really into his job and it seems to be like his first love. A graduate of the Water Transport Engineering Institute and a former river fleet captain, he got a technician job at Mosvodokanal and never regretted it. He was eventually promoted to a senior foreman.

“It comforts me to imagine that people will not slip or fall, no vehicles will get stuck and there will be ducks swimming on the river rather than rubbish.”



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