Are you a Responsible Raker?

We are in the midst of leaf season here in southeastern Wisconsin!

While that means beautiful autumn colors and delightfully crunchy leaves underfoot, it also signals a spike in phosphorus entering our local waterways and waterbodies.

As leaves clog our storm drains and on our streets during rain events, they effectively start becoming a kind of “leaf tea” that can leach excess phosphorus into the storm sewers. This is a problem whether you live in a combined sewer system or separated system, because the treatment plant either has to work harder to rid the water of this nutrient or the water goes directly into our local lakes and rivers. Excess phosphorus is a health issue for wildlife and for our recreational use of the water because high levels of this nutrient can lead to algal blooms that deplete the amount of oxygen in the water and release toxins into the water.

The good news: there are a number of actions that you take at home to alleviate this problem!

While not every municipality has a leaf collection program, if yours does, make sure you are familiar with the collection schedule and practices. Most municipalities have this information available on their Department of Public Works page. Some communities collect bagged leaves, some collect leaves that have been piled on terraces, and some collect leaves that have been piled on the streets.

A few tips:

  • Try to pile the leaves in the correct location as close to the collection time or date as possible to avoid leaves on the terrace being blown into the street or leaves on the street being washed down to the storm drain during a rain event.

  • If some leaves are left behind in the street after the collection, try to clear them from the storm drains to reduce blockage and flooding during rain events.

  • If your municipality does not have a collection program or if you want to be more environmentally conscious, you can leave your leaves right on your lawn or garden with a little prep work. Just bring out your lawn mower one more time for the season and mow right over the leaves. This will create a mulch that will help protect your lawn and garden during the winter months. You can also compost the shredded leaves by adding a little bit at a time to your compost heap, and in the spring you can spread the nutrient-rich compost on your garden.

That’s right, as it turns out, the most responsible of rakers may not need to rake much at all -- because they are magnificent mulchers!

Happy fall from the Sweet Water Team!