Community Clean-ups

Community Clean-ups for Water Quality

Organizing groups: Register your cleanup here
Volunteers: Share your results here

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.

The following public agencies and other organizations are helping Freshwater offer information on clean-ups:

Carver County Water Management Department
Contact: Madeline Banschbach

City of Rochester Stormwater Management
Contact: Allison Plute

City of Saint Paul
Contact: Kris Hageman

City of St. Louis Park
Contact: Jim Vaughan and Marney Olson

City of White Bear Lake
Contact Ellen Richter

Como Lake Neighbor Network
Contact: Janna Caywood

CROW Joint Powers
Contact: Daniel Nadeau

Department of Natural Resources, Adopt-A-River Program
Contact: Eva Johnson

District 10 Community Council, St. Paul
Contact: Community Organizer

Heron Lake Watershed District
Contact: Alyson Buschena

Scott Soil and Water Conservation District
Contact: Dan Miller

Washington Conservation District
Contact: Angie Hong


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 Clean-Ups and why are they important?

A Q-and-A on Community Clean-ups

Tips, Tools and Resources

Basic steps to conduct your Community Clean-up

Samples and templates

Sample flier for a clean-up without residential pickup

Sample doorhanger

Community Clean—ups for Water Quality: A pollution-fighting project you can organize

Freshwater is partnering with local organizations to promote Community Clean-ups for Water Quality to reduce the phosphorus, nitrogen and other pollutants flowing into lakes and rivers.

Community Clean-ups 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 are providing a free Community Toolkit and DVD with materials and instructions for implementing a Clean-up. View the seven minute video on why Community Clean-ups for Water Quality are important and view a fact sheet about the program.

What are Community Clean-ups for Water Quality?

Community Clean-ups 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 blocking storm drain grates on city streets. The organic material can then be composted.

Community Clean-ups 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 Clean—ups 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 clean-up to attract more volunteers.

What happens on the day of the clean-up?

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 clean-up 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 clean-ups 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 clean-ups are also helpful because leaves are removed before they begin to decay. Many streets may not be swept by city crews until after the first significant rain. Plan your clean-up 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 Clean-up Day.
  • Rake fall leaves before rainfall or before the first snowfall.
  • Always mow away from the street.
  • Sweep fertilizers off sidewalks and driveways.

Community Clean-ups for Water Quality are conducted by people just like you, your neighbors, and friends. Join the effort.
If your civic group or organization is interested in holding a clean-up in your community, please contact


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.