When COVID shut-down in-person learning last spring, Julie Comfort got creative. Ms. Comfort, as her students know her, is a STEM specialist at Wildwood Elementary in Mahtomedi who works with 600 K-2nd aged students each year. She loves the outdoors and science and is always looking for unique ways to teach her kids to protect the environment.
After learning about the Adopt a Drain program created by Hamline University, Ms. Comfort suggested that her students adopt storm drains in their neighborhoods as a way to get outside safely with their families and learn about watersheds and stormwater pollution. “We are at the top of the Mississippi and get clean, fresh snow and rain,” she explains. “It’s important to teach kids that it is our responsibility to make sure everyone south of us also gets to enjoy clean water. It’s such a simple thing to do, yet the lessons learned will last a lifetime!”
To find an adoptable storm drain, students used the map at www.Adopt-a-Drain.org. Adopters click on a drain, fill out a form to provide their information, name the drain, and then agree to keep it clean of litter and other debris throughout the year. They also report their work online to help program coordinators track the cumulative impact of the program. Statewide, 14,803 have been adopted by Minnesota residents and this collective volunteer action has kept 343,853 lbs of debris out of lakes, rivers and wetlands.
Last year, nearly 400 Mahtomedi children and their families participated in the Adopt a Drain activity. They had fun coming up with creative names for their drains like Squeaky McDrain, or Drainy Day, and taking pictures and videos to share with the rest of the class. “The activity helps kids become stewards of the Earth, and naming their drain gives them ownership and helps them take personal responsibility for it,” said Ms. Comfort.
Parents have also enjoyed having a hands-on activity that gets the kids outside and off of their screens. “Now that my daughter knows how important it is, she asks to bring a garbage bag on walks around the neighborhood and check other drains,” said one mom. “She thinks it’s ‘so sad’ to see the junk in them now that she knows the impact. It was educational for me too as I didn’t realize that leaves were an issue!”
Whether you are young or merely young at heart, adopting a storm drain is a simple way to help protect lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands in your community. In most neighborhoods, storm drains carry runoff from rain and melting snow directly to waterways without treatment. As a result, salt, litter, and sediment pollute the water, and increased nutrients cause algae blooms.
In Washington County, residents have adopted more than 600 storm drains and reported collecting 3,858.9 lbs of debris in 2020. Because only 40% of adopters report their work, the actual amount of debris collected was probably much larger. This April, local watershed districts are encouraging people to continue adopting drains as a way to celebrate Earth Day and take meaningful action to protect the environment.
To adopt a drain in your community, visit: www.Adopt-a-Drain.org
If you are a teacher, head to https://bit.ly/3dcZFad to find Ms. Comfort’s Adopt a Drain activity on Seesaw.
*Thank you to Rebecca Weldon for interviewing Julie Comfort for this story.