As New Englanders, we tend to deal with crazy weather and therefore with a lot of different stuff on the ground, like ice, snow, branches, leaf litter and trash blowing around.
Well, all of that stuff can clog up storm drains, which means that rain has nowhere to drain to, and that can lead to flooding, traffic problems and property damage.
In addition, rotting leaves that clog the storm drains and remain stuck on the curb over time actually release pollutants into the drains that can damage water quality.
Recent research completed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that mismanagement of leaf litter in the fall months can account for almost 60 percent of the annual nutrient (phosphorus) yield. Most storm drain systems in our region lead directly to a stream or river.
How you can help
While your Department of Public Works does indeed provide annual maintenance and clean-up of the storm drains, work can also be done on a much smaller communal scale to help with flood prevention and improving water quality. Individual catch basins often become buried in leaves and snow banks and will no longer function.
If there is a catch basin close to where you live that is frequently covered with leaves or other debris, before the next rainstorm, use a rake or pitchfork to clear away limbs, leaves, and other debris from the drain. Maybe even get into the habit of giving it an extra look as the seasons change to ensure it is ready to accept the rain it was designed for.
Relatively simple tasks like taking on catch basin cleaning are habits of an environmental steward and are both proactive and re-constructive for your local community.
If you aren’t able to clean a storm drain, simple tasks like proper management of leaf litter and snow melt truly matter and offer positive effects to the conveyance and quality of downstream waterways. Take advantage of bagging up yard waste for town disposal or forming into piles to compost. Never dump leaf piles in a wetland or stream. If you have a lawn service, make sure they are properly disposing of the debris.
For more information on how decaying leaves contribute as water pollutants, please visit the United States Geological Survey (USGS) link to the report on using leaf collection and street cleaning to reduce nutrients in urban stormwater.
Taylor Walter, Water Resources Engineer, Dec. 2018