leaf it out of the water

Fallen leaves in our water doesn't sound like it could be a bad thing, right? Leaves are biodegradable, meaning they naturally break down and return nutrients to their surroundings. However, we have altered the earth's surface tremendously and it has changed the way that leaves and their nutrients interact with the quality of our water.

Our streets act like artificial streams during rain events and help concentrate the amount of leaves and the effects they have on our waterways by transporting and collecting them in our storm sewers. As you can see from the image above, our storm sewers can be overwhelmed with fallen leaves. This can prevent the flow of water and in turn, causes water and leaves to mix.

Normally, when leaves fall, they decompose and release nutrients into the soil. When leaves find their way into our streets and are transported into our sewers, there is no soil to absorb the excess nutrients. Our storm sewers become an area where overwhelming amounts of nutrients like phosphorus are released directly into our rivers and lakes, untreated.

This access amount of phosphorus and organic material will help feed unwanted algae growth the following spring and summer. This processes reduces the amount of oxygen available to native aquatic species. Not to mention, there is the possibility that the algae can release toxins that are harmful to plants, animals, amphibians, fish, and humans!

To prevent these negative effects, we have a few options:

  • Put leaves in a compost pile - Take advantage of the breakdown processes and capture the extra nutrients and use them as a natural fertilizer for your lawn and/or garden.
  • Mulch your lawn or garden - Entire or shredded leaves can be left on your lawn and garden! Not only will your lawn and garden absorb the nutrients, it will help protect against soil erosion, prevent weeds from sprouting, and act as a protective layer of insulation for perennials in your garden. 
  • Bagging - Check with your municipality to see if your neighborhood services will pick up leaves for you! Besides, Sparkles loves to jump in a big pile of leaves!