Raking leaves may not seem like an act of citizenship, but that’s how Janna Caywood, resident and community organizer of the Como Curb Cleanup, describes its impact on the water quality of the nearby lake.

Every October, energetic brigades of neighborhood rakers and mowers from the Como Active Citizen Network prevent leaves from collecting in their yards. They also keep them  off the curbs and out of the gutters beyond their private property lines.

Leaf-Raking and Lake Water Quality

Neighbors sweep leave from streets and sidewalks.
Neighbors work together to sweep leaves from streets and sidewalks.

How does leaf-raking improve water quality?

This stewardship of the 40’ or so of public property beyond yard perimeters keeps organic matter out of storm sewers, preventing the toxic “tea” that percolates when leaves meet rain water, then run through storm sewers into lakes.

The concoction that brews in Como and other urban lakes features phosphorous and creates algae blooms. These blooms in turn trigger a negative cascading effect on not only water quality, but also other forms of  aquatic life — from vegetation to fish. The effects are so profound that Caywood says Como Lake is essentially a storm water holding tank, with little freshwater in the mix.

“Non-point source pollution mitigation is the challenge of our generation,”she adds, previous generations having legislated against point-source pollution.

Como Curb Cleanup

Now, amidst the annual proliferation of political yard signs in the tidy Como Park neighborhood, are also “demonstration home” yard signs signifying property owners’ dedication to practicing good leaf-raking habits. “This is something that we can easily do, that government agencies can’t,” Caywood says, noting that the network does not consider themselves volunteers, but responsible property owners concerned about water quality.

Young and older neighbors work together to stencil a storm drain that will help keep leaves from getting in, thus help improve the water quality of the nearby lake.
Como neighbors stencil a storm drain with a message about the importance of keeping them clean.

An informal group of nearly 100 neighbors serves as leaf “ambassadors” to their blocks, operating in a decentralized manner as citizens holding one another accountable. “We are the ones who are emotionally attached to our lake, so we are the ones in the best position to positively impact its health,” she says.

Como Park neighbors work together to solve problems, such as leaf-raking to improve water quality in nearby Como Lake..
Como neighbors build their capacity to collectively solve problems — such as keeping leaves out of storm drains.

“More than making the lake cleaner, we are developing the capacity to collectively problem-solve … to be valuable partners in this work,” says Caywood. “We all have a role to play in advancing the common good.”

To learn more about this neighborhood initiative, visit comoacn.org

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