10,000 Storm Drain Adopters in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

What do DMV – Troll Toll, Porcupine Two, The Grate Escape, Trogdor the Draininator, and The Ugly One have in common?

In 2014, a group of watershed educators in St. Paul came up with a creative way to engage community residents in cleaning up city lakes and the Mississippi River; they asked people to “adopt” and care for storm drains in their neighborhoods. Since then, the Adopt a Drain program has expanded to include all of the Twin Cities’ metro area, as well as portions of greater Minnesota. To date, nearly 10,000 Minnesotans have adopted 17,762 storm drains, and those volunteers have reported collecting 474,096 pounds of debris that would have otherwise ended up in our water.  

A volunteer in Elliot Park, Minneapolis celebrates all of the garbage collected during an Adopt-a-Drain clean up event.

Storm drains are designed to keep neighborhoods from flooding, but they also carry litter and debris off of city streets and into our lakes and rivers. The Adopt a Drain program, operated by Hamline University and the Watershed Partners, encourages people to help reduce stormwater pollution by keeping their nearest storm drain clear of litter, leaves, grass clippings and dirt. It is a simple volunteer activity that takes only 15-minutes, once or twice a month, but adds up to a big collective impact for our waterways.

Adopting a storm drain is a simple volunteer activity that people can do at home and with family.

One enticing benefit of adopting a local storm drain (besides helping to keep our water clean, of course) is the ability to name your drain anything that you want. This is where creative names like Trogdor the Draininator and Mind in the Gutter enter the conversation.

The Adopt a Drain program has also helped to build community and spur good-natured competition. In Washington County, Sustainable Stillwater has been working to recruit storm drain adopters in Stillwater, while Minnesota Water Stewards have been promoting the program in Woodbury. Julie Comfort, a teacher at Wildwood Elementary in Mahtomedi, has even encouraged her students to adopt storm drains as part of their homework. “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!”

In Stillwater, volunteers from Sustainable Stillwater have worked to stencil storm drains and recruit Adopt-a-Drain volunteers.

In other parts of the metro, neighboring cities are challenging one another to see who can recruit the most storm drain adopters or collect the most litter and debris. When checking on the latest statistics last week, I was chagrined to discover that Anoka County residents have adopted 1039 storm drains, compared with only 821 in Washington County. It isn’t necessarily a competition, but I do want to win.

Between now and May 15, Watershed Partners and Hamline University are offering an additional incentive to recruit more storm drain volunteers. All storm drain adopters, new and old, are invited to purchase Twins tickets at a discounted price of $15 for a special May 15 Adopt a Drain meet-up event. In addition, new adopters will also receive a canvas tote bag.

To adopt a drain, go to www.Adopt-a-Drain.org and use the map to find an available storm drain. Then click and sign-up to adopt. If you don’t see your drain on the map, you can also add a new drain by address. Spend a few minutes each month picking up the garbage and debris near your drain and then go online to report your work so that we can measure our collective impact.

To dispose of the waste you collect, separate it into three categories and place it in the appropriate receptacle: trash, recyclables (glass and plastic bottles, cans) and compostables (leaves and grass clippings). Sediment collected in the spring contains winter road salt and should be put in the trash.

Hamline United Methodist Church Adopt-a-Drain volunteers

Have fun naming your storm drain and remember, it’s not a competition, but we do want to beat Anoka County!