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Fall lawn care for clean water

October 1, 2016

by Sherry White, MCWD Board of Managers President

Sweeping up leavesFall has a magical way of making yard work actually pleasant. There is something about raking up a pile of crunchy leaves that makes me happy in a way that picking weeds on a sticky summer day never could.

As someone dedicated to protecting the health of our lakes and streams, yard work has another dimension of meaning, too: how it impacts clean water. The more I've learned about clean water over the years, the more I've realized how directly the choices we make on our property can impact the health of nearby lakes and streams, whether or not you live near one.

There is a phrase we use at the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, where I serve as President of the Board of Managers: "Every curb is a shoreline." This refers to the fact that, when it rains, the water picks up everything along the curb and sidewalk and carries it untreated through a storm drain and into a nearby water body. So throwing a wrapper or cigarette butt on the road is no different than throwing it directly into a neighborhood lake.

The same is true with leaves, grass, clippings, pet waste, and fertilizer, all of which are harmful to our lakes and streams. But here is the good news! You can do a number of things on your own property to tangibly reduce your impact on the health of our waters.

Mow: Mow often, leave clippings on the lawn and leave your grass 2.5 to 3 inches high. This strengthens roots and retains moisture for a green, resilient lawn.

Rake: Rake leaves to keep them out of storm drains and nearby water bodies, where they promote algae growth. Keep them away from driveways, streets and sidewalks.

Dispose of leaves: There are a few water-friendly ways you can get rid of leaves: compost them, mulch them and leave them on your lawn, or bag them for pick-up by city crews.

Control Weeds: September is the best time to treat dandelions, plantain, clover and Creeping Charlie. Limited numbers of weeds can be removed by hand or spot-treated with herbicide.

Sweep up: Pick up and reuse lawn care products that fall on streets, sidewalks and driveways.

Fall is also the time to bid adieu to open water season and stow away equipment like docks and boat lifts. Transporting equipment that has been submerged in water is a common way to spread aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels and milfoil. Inspect equipment carefully after you remove it to make sure there are no plants, mussels or other organisms attached.

The Minnesota DNR advises us to "look on the posts, wheels, and underwater support bars of docks and lifts, as well as any parts of boats, pontoons, and rafts that may have been submerged in water for an extended period. In newly infested waters, adult zebra mussels may not be abundant and you might notice only a few mussels on your equipment."

It was another beautiful Minnesota summer and I'm looking forward to what is hopefully a long and pleasant fall. As I already start dreaming about the next open water season, I'm doing everything I can to protect the lakes and streams I care about in the meantime, and I hope you'll join me! Visit our education page to learn more