Spring Cleaning with Allina Health Nurses

WHITE BEAR TOWNSHIP—VLAWMO recently collaborated with Alina Nurses volunteers and the White Bear Preserve Townhome Association for a street clean-up near Rice Lake. The result was a hopeful picture of teamwork, merging human and environmental health into a fun morning of community service.

Studies show that such efforts improve water quality. In this particular area of White Bear Township, stormwater runoff goes into Lambert Creek, which carries water into Vadnais Lake – the reservoir of drinking water for the Saint Paul Regional Water Services.

How does a street clean up help water quality?

Leaf litter and sediment on streets are the final signs of winter – a reminder of the shoulder-clenching, boot-tromping months from whence we came. As we remember what nice weather is like, we tread victoriously over these winter remnants, before the rain comes and washes them away.   

When street debris washes away, it’s easy to forget about winter and even easier to overlook where it goes. In the Spring, leaf litter is combined with sand, salt, motor oil, and any other trash that accumulated over winter. The result is a ‘gunk’ that contaminates fresh water in many ways.

Leaf litter, although a natural material, contributes a large amount of phosphorous to urban stormwater. Stormdrains, while they’re efficient in transporting water, act as funnels that bring in more runoff than what our lakes are used to. Phosphorus is a nutrient found in soil, manure, and leaves that encourages plant growth. If too much enters a lake, it’s one of the main drivers behind smelly and sometimes toxic algal blooms. Limiting phosphorus and nitrogen encourages clearer, healthier, and better-smelling water. A study from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Madison, WI (1) found that community leaf collection programs can reduce phosphorus loads by 83% and nitrogen by 74%.

Whether through a group project or independently, we can all make a difference by practicing “only rain down the drain.”

Here in White Bear Township, our day of service consisted of three parts: trash pick-up, cleaning out stormdrains, and marking stormdrains with ‘no dumping’ signs. Along with beautifying the neighborhood and protecting water quality, clean stormdrains also mean prolonging the life of the Township’s stormdrains and streets. A clean stormdrain means a maintenance and flood-free street, which saves taxpayers money. That morning we cleared sand, leaves, and even tree seedlings out of the drains! While street sweepers do collect a large amount of debris, communities don’t have the ability to run them all year, and often can’t time them according to rain events. Community clean-ups catch what the street sweepers miss.

Labeling stormdrians with “no dumping” markers also prevents needless and illegal pollution into waterways. Mop buckets, motor oil, or wash water from carpet cleaning are examples of illicit discharges that should be disposed of through a county hazardous waste recycling program or in the sanitary sewer system. Reference the Ramsey County A – Z guide for more information and clarity on proper disposal.

While the Saint Paul Regional Water Services work hard to clean water for public drinking supply, efforts to keep water clean up-stream support their work and help operations run smoothly.

Making this effort into a common habit helps to ensure a clean water future.

Cheers to health!

Also on Rice Lake (which is actually classified as a large wetland) is the purple loosestrife control project.  Read more here!

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References: 

1) USGS: Removel of Fallen Leaves Improves Urban Water Quality 

2) Nutrients in leaves 

3) USGS: Leaf removal 

4) EPA: Nutrient pollution in stormwater 

5) Penn State: Grass clippings and stormwater

6) UW: Leaves and nutrients 

7) Trees and phosphorus

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