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Great Lakes Article:

Protect the lake with a rake
ENVIRONMENT: Volunteers will help prevent leaves and trash from polluting streams and Lake Superior.
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribune
Published September 27, 2005


Local officials are asking residents of two Duluth neighborhoods to adopt a storm drain this fall as part of continuing efforts to keep polluted runoff from entering local streams and Lake Superior.

Residents of the Gary neighborhood near Stowe School and of the East Hillside near Chester Creek will find a letter in the mail next week urging their help and explaining how to get a free rake.

Groups looking for civic projects also can volunteer to adopt storm drains in other neighborhoods.

The effort is sponsored by the city of Duluth and the South St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation District thanks to a $27,000 grant from the Great Lakes Commission. It follows last spring's initiative to sweep gutters in front of homes to prevent sand from carrying pollution into streams, and eventually the lake, and to keep sand from clogging stream habitat. Duluthians collected enough sand to fill two-and-a-half dump trucks.

Now, the enemy is leaves, grass clippings and garbage that clog storm drains and carry pollution into streams, said Mindy Granley, conservation specialist for the South St. Louis County Soil and Water Conservation District.

"We're trying to keep hammering the message home that whatever goes into our streets and our storm sewers goes into our streams and the lake," she said, noting that keeping the drains clean also will prevent street flooding.

While leaves might sound natural, they can carry pollution with them in urban areas, such as motor oil and pesticides. They also add organic matter that, as it breaks down in the water, uses up oxygen needed by trout. And tons of leaves can fertilize streams to unnatural levels.

"When a few leaves fall onto a stream, that's natural. When hundreds of neighbors rake their leaves down the street or down hill and they end up in the stream, that's bad," Granley said.

Other efforts this winter will try to reduce the amount of road salt running into streams.

Storm drain volunteers must pledge to check drains weekly. They'll receive a free rake and some plastic bags to help pick up garbage, leaves and sticks from their storm-drain covers.

It's hoped more than 500 of the city's 9,500 storm drains will be adopted this fall, and that publicity of the program will encourage other people to keep storm drains near their houses clear, said Marni Lonsdale, the city's storm-water program coordinator.

In days of reduced state and federal aid for cities, and with property taxes already climbing just to provide basic services, city officials say they can't keep track of what's going into storm drains.

"We're not going to be able to give out free rakes every year. But we are going to keep reminding people that water quality is everyone's job," Lonsdale said. "We get calls all the time of people saying their storm drain is clogged with leaves. Well, it's a lot easier and cheaper for them to clean it out and help out than it is for us to send a crew out.... We can't afford to monitor 9,500 storm drains."

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