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Storm sewer can carry pollutants into a lake or stream.

What's good for your garden isn't good for the water

The storm sewer that carries water away from our yard during a rainstorm can also carry pollutants from our yard into a lake or stream. Lawn clippings, leaves, and pet waste can degrade water quality, says Bob Mugaas, educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

"The storm sewer system collects storm water runoff from various in-lets located at the edge of roads, parking lots, and other large, impervious surfaces," says Mugaas. "A series of pipes carries the storm water to outlets located on surface waters such as lakes, rivers, and holding ponds. None of this water is treated, so any pollutants picked up by the moving water are carried directly to these same bodies of water."

Anything that ends up in the street and can be carried by runoff water to storm sewer inlets is likely to end up in nearby water bodies.

"Most of us would probably be horrified to watch the water coming into our lakes from storm sewers immediately following a summer thunderstorm," says Mugaas. "You would likely see all sorts of junk and garbage. But in addition, you would see leaves, grass clippings, small twigs, branches, soil, oil slicks, and other organic debris.

"What you would not see are the many different forms of dissolved organic and inorganic compounds flushed from the streets, landscapes, and rooftops."

Many of the materials you can see, as well as many of the dissolved compounds, contain phosphorus and other plant nutrients, says Mugaas. The population of algae in a body of water can explode with these small additions of phosphorus and degrade water quality.

Undecomposed organic materials such as leaves and grass clippings that are washed into a lake will decompose eventually and release their nutrients into the water. An undesirable flush of algae will result.

Homeowners can help protect water quality by keeping grass clippings on the lawn and off streets and driveways. Raking or sweeping leaves off streets and driveways and cleaning up after pets are other actions that lead to cleaner water.
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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