Water stewards inspire neighbors to take action and adopt storm drains

Jared Kooiker is a Woodbury resident and one of 20 Minnesota Water Stewards in Washington County. After moving here from southern California, Jared joined the Water Stewards program in 2018 to meet people and learn about local conservation issues. In his previous work as a senior horticulturist at the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, Jared frequently talked about water conservation, invasive plant species, and wildlife habitat. Here in Minnesota, he quickly learned that too much water could be just as much of a problem as too little.

For his Water Stewards capstone project, Jared decided to engage his Woodbury neighbors in a community effort to reduce stormwater pollution to Colby Lake working through the newly expanded Adopt a Drain program.

Through the Minnesota Water Stewards program, Jared Kooiker (third from right) and other volunteers learned about water science, policy and community engagement and completed capstone projects in their communities.

Adopt a Drain was developed by Hamline University in 2014 in partnership with Capitol Region Watershed District and the City of St. Paul. The goal was to recruit community residents to “adopt” storm drains and keep them clear of litter, leaves, and other debris that normally washes into lakes and rivers and causes water pollution. In 2019, Adopt a Drain expanded to include Washington County and other communities in the greater Twin Cities area as well.  

Last year, Jared worked with the City of Woodbury and South Washington Watershed District to create a map of storm drains near Colby Lake. Throughout the summer, he canvassed the surrounding neighborhoods, knocking on doors, marking storm drains, and encouraging people to do their part to protect Colby Lake. He successfully recruited 18 Adopt a Drain volunteers near Colby Lake, and helped to grow the number of storm drains adopted in the city from 0 to 90.

Adopt a Drain volunteers agree to keep their drains clear of litter and yard waste and can also give them funny names like Poseidon’s Palace and Drain “The Rock” Johnson

On the other side of the metro area, fellow Water Steward Michelle Spangler has been working to promote Adopt a Drain in Northeast Minneapolis as well. Before enrolling in the Water Stewards program, Michelle didn’t know that stormwater runoff in her neighborhood flowed unfiltered into the Mississippi River. When she realized how much trash from their neighborhood streets was ending up in the river, she was shocked.

On day, as she stood with her son at his school bus stop, she noticed all the piles of leaves and trash around the drains. “We ended up adopting six of them,” she said. Soon her kids’ friends joined in, and their families adopted other drains in the neighborhood. Michelle is passionate about including the younger generation in environmental action. “So often kids are told ‘you can’t do that’ because they’re too young, but they can help clean leaves out of storm drains, and it makes them feel really good.” 

Michelle Spangler and her kids stand in front of a newly cleaned storm drain in Northeast Minneapolis.

This year, Michelle challenged the neighborhoods of Northeast Minneapolis to a competition to see who can adopt the most storm drains. Altogether, 210 storm drains have been adopted across Northeast, and volunteers prevented over 1,400 pounds of waste from washing into the river.

To date, Twin Cities’ residents have adopted 13,753 storm drains. However, only 530 of those are in Washington County. This fall, the East Metro Water Resource Education Program is encouraging people to adopt a storm drain in their neighborhood and join the movement to promote clean lakes, rivers and streams. To sign up, go to www.Adopt-a-Drain.org.


13,345 drains adopted in MN. It’s seriously the easiest thing you can do to protect water! #cleanwater #workit

♬ Work work work work work – Fifth Harmony