Community Clean-ups

Community Clean-ups for Water Quality

Did you know that leaves and organic debris from streets and sidewalks can flow through storm sewers and into lakes, rivers, and streams? Leaves and other material contain phosphorus, nitrogen, and soil that are significant pollutants. These nutrients, especially the phosphorus, contribute to the growth of excessive algae that rob the waters of needed oxygen.



Download a PDF of the 26-page toolkit that has “how to” instructions for organizing and implementing a clean-up. Or download individual components of the toolkit:

What are community cleanups and why are they important?

A Q & A on community cleanups

Tips, tools, and resources

Basic steps to conduct your community cleanup

Samples and templates

Sample flier for a cleanup without residential pickup

Sample doorhanger

Community cleanups for water quality: A pollution-fighting project you can organize

Freshwater is partnering with local organizations to promote community cleanups for water quality to reduce the phosphorus, nitrogen, and other pollutants flowing into lakes and rivers.

Community cleanups for water quality are hands-on water quality improvement projects that can be held in your area. All it takes are volunteers, bags and some tools! We provide a free community toolkit with instructions for implementing a cleanup.

What are community cleanups for water quality?

Community cleanups for water quality are local projects that can significantly reduce nutrients and soil flowing into lakes and rivers by removing leaves and yard debris from city streets. A community group such as a scout group, a school class, a church committee, a service organization, or a group of neighbors can participate. Volunteers rake, sweep, and bag leaves, dirt, and debris that block storm drain grates on city streets. The organic material can then be composted.

Community cleanups for water quality have been sponsored for years by Friends of the Minnesota Valley. Since 2010, Freshwater has helped take the volunteer effort to organizations across the state.

Why are community cleanups for water quality important?

Storm drains empty into surface waters. Rain and melting snow carry leaves, yard debris, and sand from streets into those waters. As the organic matter decays, excess phosphorus pollutes lakes and rivers. The phosphorus causes excessive growth of algae and decreases oxygen levels in the water. By cleaning up leaves in the spring or fall, volunteers can significantly reduce pollution and protect water quality.

How can I help?

Organize a group of volunteers to clean curbs, gutters, boulevards, and storm drain grates in a manageable area within your community. You will need to seek volunteers and coordinate the disposal and composting of leaves and other organic material. You may want to talk with your city officials and publicize the cleanup to attract more volunteers.

What happens on the day of the cleanup?

Your group will clean leaves, branches, and trash from the curbs, gutters, boulevards, and storm drain grates in the area you select and bag the debris. All you need are gloves, rakes, brooms, shovels, and bags.

If you want to make a bigger impact, you can also notify people in your community to rake, sweep, and bag leaves and debris from the curbs, gutters, and boulevards in front of their house. On cleanup day, the group collects the bags and takes them to a compost site.

Doesn’t street sweeping pick up all of the leaves and trash?

The goal of these cleanups is to catch the winter’s accumulation of decaying leaves and other organic material before spring rains wash it through the sewers to lakes and streams. Fall cleanups are also helpful because you remove leaves before they begin to decay. Many streets may not be swept by city crews until after the first significant rain. Plan your cleanup before street sweeping occurs.

How will this help our lakes, rivers, and streams?

Stormwater runoff, the water that runs off of streets, buildings, parking lots, lawns, and other surfaces is a serious problem for Minnesota lakes and rivers. Your community can make a significant impact on pollution coming from your streets and on the health of your lakes, rivers, and streams. To learn more, read the What is Polluting Our Lakes fact sheet.

What else can I do to fight runoff and pollution?

  • Your street is a tributary to your local lake or river.
  • Rake and sweep street curbs before spring rains wash debris into sewers by participating in your annual community cleanup day.
  • Rake fall leaves before rainfall or before the first snowfall.
  • Always mow away from the street.
  • Sweep fertilizers off sidewalks and driveways.

Community cleanups for water quality are conducted by people just like you, your neighbors, and friends. Join the effort.


Freshwater wouldn’t be able to make a difference for water without the support of
individuals like you. Discover ways to get involved with Freshwater.