Adopt a storm drain in honor of Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — participated in teach-ins and rallies across the nation to advocate for an end to environmental destruction. The event was organized by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, and was inspired by a string of environmental disasters, including a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which the Earth Day Network says is now the planet’s largest civic event.

For years, environmental organizations have advocated for citizens to think global and act local. This year’s COVID-19 outbreak has given Earth Day 2020 a new twist – think global, act local, and take individual action that will help to create a collective impact.

Take action at a safe distance this Earth Day

Here in Minnesota, Metro Watershed Partners is asking Twin Cities’ residents to adopt a storm drain, between April 17th and April 30th, in honor of Earth Day’s 50th birthday (  Jana Larson, director of the Adopt-a-Drain program, says, “Even though many community cleanup events have been canceled, we can still honor Earth Day by taking joint action to protect Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. Adopt-a-Drain invites everyone to participate in a safe way using social distancing.” The Watershed Partners coalition is led by Hamline University and has more than 70 public, private and non-profit partners, including cities, counties, and watershed management organizations.

Through the Adopt-a-Drain program, people agree to sweep-up and collect leaves, trash, and other debris from storm drains and curbsides near their homes to help protect lakes, rivers, and wetlands from stormwater pollution. Volunteers typically spend about 15-min per cleaning, twice a month. Since the program began, Twin Cities area residents have adopted 10,788 storm drains and collected more than 200,000 lbs of debris that would have otherwise washed into our waterways.

Locally, some community groups are encouraging residents to adopt storm drains this spring as a way to remain active during the current stay-at-home order. “The trails, sidewalks, and streets where we walk and bike are all of ours together,” says Roger Tomten, of Sustainable Stillwater MN. “This seems like a good time to pick up a bit, to clean up our public places, much like we do our spring cleaning in our homes. It makes us feel better about our environment and builds the bond of community that we will need going forward to tackle the issues on the horizon.” Louise Watson, a founding member of Sustainable Stillwater, has also been working hard to promote Adopt a Drain. “These activities can be accomplished individually but are highly visible and have a big collective impact.”

To date, volunteers have adopted 384 storm drains in Washington County. It’s not a competition (ahem…) but if it were, Stillwater is in the lead with 96 adoptions.

Number of storm drain adoptions per community in Washington County (Top 10):

  • Stillwater 96
  • Woodbury 76
  • Mahtomedi 53
  • Oakdale 31
  • Forest Lake 26
  • Cottage Grove 22
  • Oak Park Heights 21
  • Hugo 14
  • Lake Elmo 12
  • St. Paul Park 6

Resources to learn more and take action

Adopt a Drain: Use the online map to find and adopt a storm drain near you:  Post photos and videos of your cleaning activities on social media by tagging @adoptadrain and using the hashtags #adoptadrain and #earthdaybirthday2020 to help increase participation in the program.

Online learning for kids: Hamline University has created two interactive websites to help students learn about the water cycle, stormwater, and the Mississippi River. Check out the Adopt a Drain module ( and Waters to the Sea multimedia lessons  (