Work For Water Neighborhood Challenge

Isn’t that the way it always is in Minnesota? One day you’re out planting a new garden, assuring passers-by that you will not die of heatstroke, and yes, you are drinking plenty of water. Then, literally two days later, you’re wearing mittens in the morning, nodding to passers-by and saying, “Yes, I certainly do have my hands full walking these three crazy dogs.” The good news is that we can pull our favorite sweaters out of storage and plan a trip to a local apple orchard. With experts predicting the best fall colors in a decade, we’ll be enjoying going for hikes and drives along the river as well. The flip side of course, is that all of those beautiful red, yellow, brown leaves don’t stay on the trees forever.

Raking leaves is as Minnesotan as hotdish and Swedish jokes. Much like mowing the lawn in the summer and shoveling the driveway in the winter, it is a seasonal chore that simply can’t be avoided. Perhaps this year, however, some Minnesotans will find an extra incentive for raking their leaves, in the form of a $500 prize being offered by the Freshwater Society.

Carrie Mack and Trevor Russell of the Metro WaterShed Partners show that leaf raking is more fun when you do it with a friend

For the past few years, Freshwater Society has been working with neighborhoods and community groups around Minnesota to organize community clean-ups in the late fall and early spring. The goal of these clean-ups is to get leaves, twigs, grass clippings and sediment off of our streets before they are washed into storm drains and nearby waterways during fall rains and spring snowmelt.

Although leaves are natural, they contain high levels of phosphorus. In the woods, leaf litter decomposes slowly, providing a winter home for insects and ground-dwellers and enriching the soil with nutrients for next year’s shoots and saplings. In our neighborhoods, however, paved streets and storm drain systems create an expressway that carries these nutrients to nearby lakes and rivers in highly concentrated form. Once in our water, the excess phosphorus feeds hungry algae, which can quickly turn a blue lake green. Just five bags of leaves and clippings can grow up to 500 pounds of smelly green algae!

After realizing that city street sweepers could only collect some of the debris that clogs our streets each fall, Freshwater Society began organizing community clean-ups as a way to encourage people to work together to keep their streets clean. The clean-ups are typically led by a community group, such as a scout troop or church youth group, although some are simply organized by neighbors looking for an excuse to get together. The Freshwater website includes a whole collection of information and resources to help neighborhoods get started, including sample press releases, door hangers and volunteer sign-up sheets.

This year, Freshwater Society is adding a new twist to the project with their “Work for Water Community Challenge.” Between September 20 and October 11, they are asking people from around the state to submit their most innovative, creative ideas for how they will inspire friends and neighbors to help them clean up local streets and streams this fall. The two best ideas will win $500. Ideas can be submitted to beginning on September 20, and must be implemented by November 12. Prizes will be awarded to the winners on Nov. 12, upon successful completion of the projects.

Whether you participate in a community clean-up or prefer to work alone, your efforts to rake leaves and debris off your lawn and out of the streets will help to make our water cleaner next year. Enjoy the fresh fall air while you can and enjoy some hot apple cider. After all, you never know when winter might strike when you’re living in Minnesota.