Collecting leaves

Raking leaves keeps them from washing down the storm drain and polluting area rivers and lakes. (Photo courtesy of Cannon River Watershed Partnership)

Fall is a time when we spend a lot of time cleaning up our yards, raking up leaves, washing the car, and getting ready for winter. As you do these things, there are lots of ways you can help keep the Cannon River cleaner as well.

When I think of fall, one of the first things I think about are leaves. The maple trees turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow in my neighborhood. But after the leaves turn color, they also fall into the yard. Since leaves are “natural” and “biodegradable” some folks don’t worry if a lot of them go into the street and down the storm drain.

What many people don’t realize is that one definition of pollution is “the right stuff in the wrong place.” While our rives and lakes contain bacteria and insects that can consume some leaves, if too many leaves wash into rivers and lakes, those leaves decompose into the fertilizer phosphorus that feeds lake algae and can turn our rives and lakes green and stinky.

So how many leaves is “too many”? While you’re not in charge of what your neighbors do, you can be in charge of what happens on your property. Rake up leaves as soon as possible and either compost them on your property, or take them to a local leaf collection or compost site. The city of Northfield operates a compost site. Visit to learn more.

You may also want to wash your car this fall. But when you do, keep in mind that our storm drains dump directly into local rivers and lakes. So, anything that does down that drain ends up in the rivers where we swim, fish, and canoe. The best car washing solution for clean rivers is to go to a commercial car wash. The soapy wash and rinse water from those businesses goes down wastewater pipes and gets cleaned up at the city’s Water Reclamation Plant.

That isn’t what happens when you wash your car in the driveway. If you wash your car with soap and water on your driveway or street, that soapy water drains to your storm drain and then right into the Cannon River, the Straight River, or into a nearby lake. So, what can you do?

• You can park your car or truck on the lawn and wash it. Grass lawns filter the soap and keep it out of our waterways.

• You can just use plain water to wash your car. That way soapy water doesn’t run into our rivers and lakes.

• Of, of course, you can go to a commercial car wash.

While most people in Northfield do a good job following the rules about how to keep our stormwater and river clean, occasionally a person has other ideas. From time to time, you might notice something strange flowing into a storm drain. On occasion, residents have tried to dispose of liquids illegally in a city storm drain. According to Northfield Water Quality Technician Cole Johnson, rainwater is the only thing that should be going down a storm drain. So, if you see someone disposing of paint, oil, or any other non-rainwater liquid down a storm drain, please call the city to report the violation. To report an Illicit Discharge during normal working hours (7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. M-F) call the City’s Water Quality Technician, Cole Johnson, at 507-645-3071.

To report an illicit discharge after hours or on weekends, please call the Non-Emergency Northfield Police Number 507-645-4477.

If we each do a little, we can accomplish a lot. Have a good fall!

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