Minneapolis resident Mandy LaBreche recently moved back to her home state after four years in southern California. She was drawn to her new neighborhood largely because of its close proximity to lakes and Minnehaha Creek. When she heard about the Adopt-a-Drain program through a friend’s Facebook post, signing up seemed like a no-brainer. She says, “Minneapolis has such incredible natural resources. Adopting a drain is a really easy way to have an impact and show that you care for the environment we live in.” 

As a public health professional, Mandy knows just how big an impact the environment can have on individuals. She works at Interdisciplinary Research Leaders, an organization that supports community leaders and researchers studying community health. “A few people adopting a drain is great, but the impact could go unnoticed. When you get an entire community on board, that’s where you can see a positive impact.”

Mandy sees her time spent sweeping and cleaning up around storm drains as a way of caring for the environment as well as neighbors who enjoy Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. “Public health is all about improving the health of communities through research, education, policies, and programs,” she says. Adopting a drain is one way to keep our communities resilient with access to clean drinking water and safe recreation along the shores of lakes and rivers.

Clearing storm drain with snow
Mandy’s four-year-old daughter is excited to help clear the storm drains with her mom.

Communal action adds up

Since its metro-wide expansion last year, Adopt-a-Drain has caught on in a big way. When Mandy signed up to adopt four storm drains near her home, the program hit a major milestone: 10,000 total adopted drains. Volunteers cleaning up all around the Twin Cities metro have made a huge difference. 

With 40% of adopters reporting on their accomplishments, it’s increasingly evident that collective action achieves big goals. Last year, community members prevented more than seventy thousand pounds of debris from washing into nearby lakes and rivers. As more drain adopters report on their work, we’ll have an even better idea of the communal impact.

Adopting a storm drain takes just a few minutes each month. This year-round commitment helps prevent trash from washing into storm drains and flowing into nearby waterways. Even seemingly harmless debris like grass clippings and leaves contribute to a build-up of phosphorus in lakes and rivers. Phosphorus is the culprit that coats waterways in sludgy algae, choking out native plants and wildlife. As the winter wanes, volunteers play an equally important role by chipping away ice and preventing storm drains from freezing shut. Sweeping up gravel and deicing salt is critical too. 

Neighborhood champions of the program, including Mandy’s friend Jill, who invited others to adopt a drain on Facebook, are especially key to the success of the program.

Drain adopters with sign
Minneapolis Council Member Andrew Johnson joined Jill and Mandy to celebrate the 10,000th adopted drain.

Of course, sweeping up storm drains is just one way residents contribute to a cleaner environment.  Cities and residents can combat climate change by growing pollinator-friendly plants in their yards, planting rain gardens to absorb runoff, and stenciling storm drains to raise awareness. 

Even Mandy’s local councilmember, Andrew Johnson, shared his words of appreciation for neighbors who take the time to adopt a drain: 

“For years there has been a very active discussion in our community about the water quality of Lake Hiawatha and Minnehaha Creek which are both impacted by stormwater running into them from miles of surrounding roadways. This helped lead Jill to adopt several storm drains and put out the call to her friends, which in turn inspired Mandy to step up and adopt the 10,000th drain. Neither was seeking the fame that would accompany this milestone achievement of being associated with the 10,000th drain, but now their amazing story is part of our local history as they join countless others on the frontlines of defending our waters. Ward 12 is proud of them and their efforts and hopes their story will inspire many more to not just talk about their love of our waters, but to act.”

Adopt-a-Drain is now also available in Rochester and will soon expand to Saint Cloud. If you’d like to join the growing network of people making a difference, check out adopt-a-drain.org.

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  1. We’ve had a lot of melting, this is a good time to check the storm drains (and the gutters and alleys that lead to them) for debris leftover from winter.