Spring-cleaning can affect local water quality

As the weather warms, many people are itching to get out into the yard and clean up what winter has left behind.  The snowplow can leave all kinds of interesting artifacts in your yard, including garbage, chunks of turf, rocks, and big piles of dirt.  As you begin sorting through these “gifts” in your yard, be aware of how your spring-cleaning actions could affect local water quality.  Although the storm drain may seem like a convenient garbage can, it leads directly to the nearest stream or lake.  What goes down the storm drain ends up in your water, so if you wouldn’t want to swim in it or drink it, don’t put it down the storm drain!  Try to keep as much garbage, leaves, and sediment out of the storm drain as possible.  Instead, pick these things up and put them in a proper garbage can or in a compost pile.

Sanding and salting the roads during Minnesota winters is necessary for safe driving, but it can leave a pile of salt-laden sediment on roadsides in the spring.  As melt water and rainwater run down streets, it carries this sediment to a storm drain and then to the nearest lake or stream.  The influx of salty, muddy water can damage fish and wildlife habitat and harm the fish themselves.  Take a bit of time to sweep or shovel up as much of the sand from the roadside as possible and dispose of it in a garbage can or at a proper dumpsite.  Be careful of traffic; stand in your yard rather than the road as much as possible.

The grass is already greening up and it’s almost time to mow.  If you use fertilizer on your lawn, follow these important instructions.  Buy fertilizers without phosphorus (on the bag, make sure the middle number is 0, such as 10-0-10).  Only use the recommended amount; more is not better.  Plants can only use a certain amount, and anything more than that is wasted.  This excess washes off your lawn and makes its way to surface water, where it contributes to algae blooms and fish kills.  Never apply fertilizer over a hard surface like the sidewalk or driveway, and make sure fertilizer doesn’t spray into the street.  If it does, sweep up the fertilizer pellets and put them back on the lawn.  If you live on a lake, avoid using fertilizer at all within 50 feet of the shoreline.

If you are doing household spring-cleaning and need to dispose of any chemicals (pesticides, cleaning chemicals, oil, etc.), take these items to the Chisago County Household Hazardous Waste Facility.  Never dump them down a storm drain, in a ditch, or in the woods!  The HHWF is located at 39649 Grand Avenue in North Branch.  It is open Mondays, noon to 7 p.m., and the last Saturday of each month, 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  Call 651-237-0912 for more information.

If you have any questions about water-smart spring yard cleanup, contact the Chisago Soil & Water Conservation District at (651) 674-2333.

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