The Adopt-A-Drain competition between Northeast neighborhoods came to an end Oct. 31, even though leaves remained on the trees, just waiting to fill boulevards and gutters with debris. And although there were winners proclaimed at a gathering outside the Audubon Neighborhood Association’s office, the real winner was the Mississippi River.
From May 1-Oct.31, Northeast residents kept more than 11,600 lbs. of leaves, dirt, sand and other debris out of storm drains in the neighborhood. That’s the equivalent of 11 lbs. of phosphorus, according to Lane Christianson, Adopt-a-Drain and storm drain stenciling programs manager, Minneapolis Public Works.
The Adopt-A-Drain competition was the brainchild of Michelle Spangler, an Audubon Park resident and Master Water Steward. She conceived of the idea while waiting at the school bus stop on 30th and Lincoln with her son, who was then in kindergarten. “I looked at the storm drain and there was no place for the water to go, there was so much junk in the drain,” she said.
Spangler worked with all of Northeast’s 13 neighborhood associations to set up the challenge to see which area could keep the most gunk out of the drains, with Audubon Park flinging down the gardening glove to kick it off. The effort got off to a stumbling start when COVID-19 restrictions transformed in-person neighborhood association meetings into virtual affairs.
Volunteers who signed up were allowed to pick a storm drain (or drains) of their choice, give them a name (one was called “Drainy McDrainface”), and record their “haul” online each time they cleaned a drain.
In an email sent before the Oct. 31 celebration, Christianson wrote, “NE Minneapolis boasts over 280 storm drain adopters with over 550 storm drains adopted.” Before the competition, he said, Northeast had 346 adopted drains. After the contest, drain adoption had increased 42%. The city average is 14%.
“When you keep those leaves and grass clippings out of the storm drain, you keep phosphorus from going into the river,” he said.
All the neighborhoods saw an increase in drain adoptions. Waite Park experienced a late rush in signups to post the most new adoptions during the competition, followed by Windom Park. Waite Park also signed up the most new adopters, followed by Audubon Park.
Although Audubon started out with the highest percentage of adopted storm drains, Windom Park posted the highest increase in adoptions — 12.1%. St. Anthony East came in second, with an 11.7% increase. Marshall Terrace was not far behind, with an 11.4% gain. Council Member Kevin Reich, on hand to give out awards, called Marshall Terrace, “tiny but feisty.”
Audubon was the leafiest, collecting just over 654 lbs.
Asked what 11 lbs. of phosphorus would do to the Mississippi River, Christianson replied, “One pound of phosphorus can produce up to 500 lbs. of algae; 11 lbs. would generate 5,500 lbs.” He said algae are “very responsive to phosphorus,” a fertilizer ingredient. “When you add water and sunlight, algae grows very quickly.”
Spangler, who received recognition from the City of Minneapolis for her environmental stewardship efforts, said, “Storm drains are the most tangible way we can invest in our community’s future and send clean water to communities downriver.”
She and Christianson hope to use the competition as a model to appeal to other Minneapolis neighborhoods to adopt storm drains next year. “It really did work,” Christianson said.
Below: Graphics provided by Michelle Spangler. Council Member Kevin Reich reocognizes Michelle Spangler for her work in organizing the competition. (Photo by Cynthia Sowden)