Stormwater 101

As you have no doubt noticed, water runs downhill. Whether you live downtown, in a suburb, or many miles from the city, the precipitation that falls on your property finds its way into streams, ditches, culverts, and storm drains and flows downhill and into Lake Superior.

Did you know that stormwater and snowmelt is not treated? This means that any contaminants it picks up along its journey downhill, will also find their way to Lake Superior. Yikes!

Some contaminants, like trash and toxic chemicals, are obvious pollutants to keep out of our waterways. But even “natural” materials like leaf litter, lawn clippings, dog poop, ice melt, even too much dirt, can cause nutrients to build up in the water, and can harm our rivers and lakes where we live, work and play.

[pictures of bad things we don’t want in our water]

Even if you don’t live right on the shores of Lake Superior, you live in a watershed, and that watershed drains into Lake Superior. We drink and enjoy the clean water that our lakes and streams provide. No matter where you live, you play an important role in keeping our water pollutant-free!

Get Involved

So you know that you live in a watershed: now what? There are many actions you can take to be a good caretaker of our waters, and score some points for Team ‘Shed.

Be a champion of clean water at home

Limit the amount of ice melt salt you use on your property. A 12-ounce coffee cup of salt is enough to cover 10 sidewalk squares or a 20-foot driveway!

Never sweep grass clippings and leaf litter into the street.

“Adopt” a nearby storm drain and periodically keep the grate clear of leaves and litter. Never dump anything into the storm drain or ditches. Just don’t do it.

Remember to pick up pet waste in your yard and dispose of it. Unfortunately, there is NO poop fairy who will do that for you!

Check your car for leaking fluids, and recycle your motor oil.

Use fertilizers and insecticides sparingly and sweep driveways and sidewalks after application

Instead of washing your car at home, consider taking it to a car wash where the sudsy water runs into the sewer line to be treated, keeping detergent out our lakes and streams..


(grass clip - MPCA flickr)                         (leaves in drain - from Andrea)

(Salt photo from MWMO, photo credit Scott Andre)

(poop pic from “There Is No Poop Fairy” video 2019 - Dangerbird)

Manage stormwater on your own property

Slowing and capturing stormwater on your property can help reduce flooding and allow water to filter slowly instead of running off the land quickly on its path downhill. Here are some techniques you might consider using on your property to help contribute to cleaner stormwater:

Rain barrels are aboveground water storage vessels.  They capture rain runoff from a building’s roof using the gutter and downspout system. (photo source: MPCA)

Where hard surfaces are necessary on your property, consider the use of pervious pavers. Unlike traditional pavement, permeable pavers allow water to pass through them and soak into the ground instead of running directly off. There are now a variety of permeable pavements on the market that are specifically designed to increase infiltration into the ground. (photo source: MPCA)

Rain gardens contain flowering plants and grasses that can survive in soil soaked with water from rain storms. They are not designed to hold standing water! Rain gardens, when placed in the right location, are designed to collect and slow stormwater run off and increase its infiltration into the soil.

Other stormwater infrastructure you can install on your property include green roofs and stream buffer strips. Simply decreasing the amount of hard (impervious) surface on your property and planting more native vegetation and trees on your property can help to slow rainwater down and allow it to soak into the ground.

Of course, it’s not just up to you. It takes a village to keep our water clean!

At the individual, neighborhood, and community scale, we can all take important actions to improve the quality of our water. Cities and towns are required to manage their stormwater responsibly. Here are some examples of how local cities work at a larger scale to keep water clean.

Coordinated annual city-wide street sweeping allows for seasonal removal of leaves, trash and debris that have collected in gutters and roads over winter before they are washed into storm drains.