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What gets in our water when fall is in the air?

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 5:01 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - It may be a fun activity you do with your kids or partner, but raking leaves also has benefits for the environment. Cleaning storm drains by raking leaves out of the way can create safer water for us and the local wildlife.

“By keeping these storm drains clear, we’re helping drainage of our communities,” Erin Houghton, watershed program manager for NEW Water, said. “But, by keeping them clear we’re also keeping that rain water and precipitation melt water cleaner because what goes into a storm drain and ultimately gets conveyed to our local rivers and bay does not get treated in any way.”

The purpose of a storm drain is to collect rain, melted snow, or ice but it doesn’t filter out excess material. Excess phosphorus and soil sediments get into the water which can block sunlight to aquatic vegetation. Plus, make bodies of water like the Fox River, a chocolate milk-like color that prevents things like algae from growing.

“Within a community, I think we all take for granted the level of impact that we have on our local waterways,” Houghton said. “One example of that is taking for granted the storm water drains and what they do and how they help us but ultimately what their main purpose is.”

NEW Water shared how crucial it is to be aware while you rake out storm drains in order to assist in stopping this excess run-off.

“We really do want to make sure they’re taking safety into consideration,” health, safety, and security coordinator for NEW Water, Adam Butry, emphasized. “They should be wearing high visibility colors, whether it’s a traffic vest or a bright neon shirt like I’m wearing currently. Always make sure that you’re paying attention to the traffic around you, especially if you live on a busy street. You should never turn your back to on-coming traffic.”

NEW Water is starting a new program thanks to needing a better way to comply with water utility requirements that will cut down on harmful materials in the water. Taking a preventative approach like raking out the drains before they get clogged will hopefully cut down on such pollutants.

Though this fall has been warmer than usual so far, plenty of leaves are still falling. Clearing out the storm drains near your home that send water directly into our local rivers and bay will keep the waterways less polluted, and protect wildlife that calls the water home.

“By having excess nutrients and sediments into our waterways here in Northeast Wisconsin, these two issues are really a primer for causing excess algal blooms that we see especially in the rivers in lower Green Bay in the summertime,” Houghton highlighted. “We also see really cloudy chocolate brown water sometimes when it’s not green.”

The darker water color from excess leaf nutrients blocks sunlight. Stifling aquatic vegetation and harming our natural ecosystem.

If you’re willing to help, contact your local municipality to learn more about where you can drop off your extra leaves.

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