Ozark Outdoors

Be a good neighbor when handling leaves

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Fall leaves are a beautiful sight as they turn autumn colors, but they can also contribute to water problems.


While Springfield’s Environmental Services and Public Works departments enjoy autumn as much as anyone, they aren’t looking forward to the problems the fallen leaves create when they make their way into the storm drains. But those same leaves that are just beginning to turn the colors of fall can contribute mightily to water problems.

“When ditches and storm drains get clogged with leaves and debris, water no longer drains from the street – it ponds along streets and can flood intersections and homes. Localized street flooding can damage property and be dangerous to people and animals. Leaves and debris placed on the street can also be a hazard to vehicles,” says Superintendent of Streets Ron Bailey.

Many a homeowner just assumes that when leaves are gone, they’re someone else’s problem. Worse, they may simply mow or blow them into a neighborhood runoff ditch without considering the problems they can create just a few yards away.

When it rains, leaves and other yardwaste in streets, ditches, and storm drains is carried by runoff through the stormwater drainage system into our local streams and lakes. This yardwaste contains nutrients that feed the growth of unwanted algae and reduce the clarity of the water. Besides being unsightly, excess nutrients in our streams and lakes can increase the cost for our community to meet regulatory mandates for water quality protection.

What You Can Do

For starters, keep fallen leaves and grass clippings on your property – off of the sidewalks and out of the streets. Don’t place leaves in ditches or along the curb. Placing yardwaste in streets, ditches or storm drains is a violation of City Code.

Set your lawn mower to mulch and mow high. Taller mowing heights encourage better root development. Removing no more than 1/3 of the grass height at one time will prevent the build-up of thatch from excess grass clippings. Mulch mowing up to 1 inch of leaves at a time will allow them to decompose into the soil. These practices contribute to healthy soil and healthy lawns.

Bag leaves and grass clippings (if you don’t leave them on your lawn) and take them to the Yardwaste Recycling Center, located near the Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant. Visit springfieldmo.gov/recycling or call the Recycling Hotline at 864-1904 for directions and hours of operation. Still not sure? You can view a video about how to maintain your property.

If you see a clogged storm drain or a neighbor dumping leaves into a storm drain, street, or ditch, please report it by contacting the Citizen Resource Center at 864-1010 or springfieldmo.gov/citizenresource.

For more information, contact: Ron Bailey, Superintendent of Streets, at 417-864-1136 or Water Quality Coordinator Carrie Lamb at 417-864-1996.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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