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Which neighborhood can adopt more drains?

Posted on 08 October 2018 by Calvin

Como, Hamline-Midway, and Macalester-Groveland accept the adopt-a-drain challenge for cleaner water

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Which St. Paul neighborhood can adopt more storm drains over the next year? The challenge has been accepted by the Como, Hamline-Midway, and Macalester-Groveland neighborhoods.

As of Oct. 1, 630 storm drains have been adopted by local residents.

The official breakdown of the competing neighborhoods:
• Como/District 10—197 participants have adopted 297 drains.
• Hamline-Midway—103 participants have adopted 159 drains.
• Mac-Groveland—115 participants have adopted 174 drains.

“Unlike adopting a pet or a child, storm drains are pretty easy to take care of,” remarked Hamline Midway Environment Committee member Lucia Hunt. “By signing up, a neighbor commits to watching a drain and making sure it stays clear of garbage, leaves, ice, and other debris. This means visiting the storm drain every month or two and sweeping it clean, weeding around it, and tossing litter into the trash. Chopping ice buildup in the winter is a great way to keep our streets clear and dry during slush season.”

Hunt first learned about the Adopt-A-Drain program while going through the Master Water Steward coursework when they were all encouraged to adopt their own drain.

“There is an education component to the Master Water Steward program, and instead of coming up with a unique idea, I thought about how to increase adoption rates in my neighborhood,” recalled Hunt. “I wanted to start a friendly competition between the neighborhoods to inspire some pride and pleasure in water conservation.”

The competition between neighborhoods began in August.

What washes down the drain…
“Water quality issues are making the news more and more here in Minnesota. We talk a lot about the impact of agricultural practices, but our urban impact can be just as damaging to the water bodies we love and are connected with,” observed Hunt. “Some of us use pesticides and fertilizers on our lawns, rake our leaves into the street, or are careless with our wrappers and garbage. It is important to realize what happens to all that stuff when it goes down the drains.”

“Many people do not know that our storm sewers go directly into lakes and rivers without any filtration,” remarked Jenni Abere, who administers the Adopt-A-Drain program out of Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education. “Also, many people don’t know that leaves and grass (in excess) actually pollute lakes and rivers.”

Phosphorus is one of the most troublesome pollutants in stormwater runoff. When leaves, lawn clippings, animal wastes, fertilizers, and soil are picked up by stormwater runoff and are carried directly to local lakes and streams, they provide the lakes with excess phosphorus. This excess phosphorus increases algae growth and is why lakes turn green.

“All of the water, plastic bottles, straws, leaves, and road grime go straight through the underground pipes to the Mississippi River—unfiltered, untreated, and unseen,” stated Hunt.

“We do not have any surface water in the Hamline Midway neighborhood, so everything appears to just ‘go away.’ However, if you take a stroll along the riverbanks, it’s a real eye-opener when you see all that trash accumulating and even worse is the invisible nutrient load flowing downstream.”

District 10 Como Community Council Executive Director Michael Kuchta pointed out that storm sewers are the tributaries for Como Lake.

“What washes down the sewer grates goes directly into the lake—trash, excessive nutrients, and who knows what else. It’s the equivalent to manure and fertilizer runoff into the Minnesota River. It directly degrades water quality,” stated Kuchta. “In our case, anyone walking past could see and smell the consequences this summer—green water, algae blooms, and all kinds of trash in the water and on the shoreline.”

40,000 pounds of debris diverted last year
By adopting a drain, participants commit to keeping it clear of leaves, trash, and sediment. These simple steps keep debris from washing down the storm drain and becoming pollution in local waterways.

Last winter and spring, St. Paul participants diverted more than 40,000 pounds of debris from metro area lakes and rivers.

The Adopt-A-Drain program began in 2014 with support from the city of St. Paul and Capitol Region Watershed District. It was subsequently piloted in Bloomington, Roseville, Maple Grove, and Minneapolis, with support from those cities plus Nine Mile Creek and Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed Districts.

“There is a surprising number of people who are not ‘official’ adopters but who have been cleaning out their storm drains for years,” Hunt commented. “They understand that the work they do benefits the entire neighborhood and that those individual civic actions make the Midway a better place to live.

“If you are considering adopting, look for one that you walk by or live by so it’s not a hassle to visit it. You can even give your drain a name! Sign up at Adopt-a-Drain.org and pick one or two drains, or go all out and adopt an entire intersection to call your own.”

Kuchta added, “We’re in this friendly competition with other neighborhoods because it provides a fun way for all of us to take a simple, specific step to start turning things around. If residents adopt a drain, if they keep catch basins and gutters clear of grass clippings, leaves, and other debris, it makes an immediate, positive impact on Como Lake. Plus, you get a nice-looking sign for your yard.”

This fall, District 10 is also partnering with the city’s public works department to spread the word that it is illegal to rake leaves into the street.

4-year-old adopts a drain
When four-year-old Miriam Hansen walked past the Adopt-A-Drain exhibit at the State Fair, it was a no-brainer for her family. They adopted a drain.

Photo left: Miriam Hansen checks her drain daily. “Drains need to be clean so the water can drain down it,” explained the four-year-old. (Photo submitted)

“My daughter’s pre-K class focused on learning about rivers,” explained her mother, Jill Hansen, of the Mac-Groveland neighborhood, who was inspired by her daughter’s excitement. “As a part of this, they included drains and where the water goes.”

During family walks, they started paying attention to the storm drains they walked past and cleaning them as needed. “We had many conversations about water, the animals living in and around the river, and the effect trash can have on them,” said J. Hansen. “It was exciting for our daughter. The connection she made with helping the earth and animals was caring and beautiful.”

Miriam checks her drain daily. If she notices that the drain near hers that was adopted by neighbors needs to be cleared, she is very prompt in telling them so.

“Drains need to be clean so the water can drain down it,” explained the four-year-old. “The water goes to the river. We can’t let garbage go down it because then the fish could eat it and die.”
J. Hansen appreciates the Adopt-A-Drain program.

“I love that it empowers the community to play a small part,” said J. Hansen. “If we all do a small part it can make a big difference.”

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