What goes down the storm drain must come out – into a lake or wetland that is. Stormwater infrastructure, including storm sewers, pipes, and ponds, are designed to carry water off the pavement quickly when it rains so that homes and businesses are safe from flooding. Unfortunately, however, these systems also carry pollutants such as litter, dog poop, fertilizers, and yard waste into lakes, streams, and wetlands.

The Comfort Lake – Forest Lake and Rice Creek Watershed Districts have spent more than 20 years working with Forest Lake and surrounding communities to protect and restore water quality in local lakes and streams. In a developed community, that means working to reduce stormwater pollution from parking lots, roads, rooftops, and lawns. Two years ago, the city began implementing an enhanced street sweeping program with funding support from the watershed districts and a Minnesota Clean Water grant. Stormwater reduction projects have also been completed at Forest Lake City Hall, Forest Lake Area High School, Forest Hills Golf Club, and numerous other locations throughout the city. 

These large-scale projects are effective, but also take years to research, plan and construct. There are also many cheap and easy ways for community residents to help reduce stormwater pollution. One is to “adopt” a local storm drain atadopt-a-drain.org. 

Yard waste like lawn clippings, leaves, and seeds contains high levels of phosphorus that can be washed into our lakes when it rains. To address this problem, Hamline University worked in partnership with 70 local government partners (Watershed Partners) to create a volunteer program called Adopt-a-Drain. Adopters agree to sweep-up and collect leaves, trash, and other debris from a nearby storm drain throughout the year and report their work online. It’s a low time-commitment volunteer activity with a big impact. Since the program began, Twin Cities area residents have adopted 13,197 storm drains and collected more than 233,181 lbs of debris that would have otherwise washed into our waterways. 

On September 12, 10am-12pm, the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District is sponsoring a volunteer event in partnership with Community Thread to stencil storm drains, pick up litter, and continue promoting the Adopt-a-Drain program. Volunteers will meet at Lakeside Memorial Park and will get a gift certificate for free ice cream afterwards. Sign-up online at forms.gle/McyjaYXa71PtaTjRA. The event is ideal for families, small groups, pairs, or individuals. 

If you live in a part of the city without storm drains, you can still help to protect nearby lakes and wetlands by sweeping dirt and yard waste off of your sidewalk, driveway and curb-line throughout the year, and being careful not to over-apply fertilizers to your lawn and gardens.  

If you live on one of the lakes, maintain a buffer of native plants along your shoreline, inspect your septic system regularly, and consider building raingardens to capture and filter stormwater runoff from your house and driveway. For advice and grant assistance, sign up for a free site visit at mnwcd.org. 

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water.

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