New City Leaf Policy – Storms of Change

Some people eren’t happy about the City of Frederick’s new “leaf collection policy” when it was put in place last fall.

Interestingly, it’s just another example of the indirect impact of impact climate change on our everyday lives.

Better maintenance of Frederick City storm drains-including discontinuing leaf sweeping into streets–could help with freak storms like the YMCA flooding. (photo by D. Farrar)

In an attempt to soften the change in service, the city positioned it as an increase in service: weekly leaf pickup service would be replacing the every-other-week collection that city residents have been used to for decades. However, in reading the fine print, (and in the print left on warning tickets for those who didn’t know or didn’t comply last fall), leaf-rakers found that the increase in service came with an important difference: now they had to pile their leaves into reuseable containers or brown bags in order to have them collected.

A newspaper letter writer was dubious about the change, speculating with a tongue-in-cheek comment that the city’s vacuum truck broke down and the policy was to avoid replacing it!

City personnel explained in a press release that the new policy is for “pollution prevention. EPA’s Phase II Municipal separate storm sewer system permit requires good housekeeping.” . But this is not the kind of pollution that would typically think come from street sweepings (cigarette butts, glass, trash and road grit). That’s actually less than 1% of the volume of contaminants, according to the city streets and sanitation department.

No, the more troubling problem is the leaves themselves, when they are swept in massive piles to the curb. Why? “They clog infrastructure including swales, pipes and inlets,” the release notes, increasing the risk of flooding. Think about it—and the crazy storms that flooded North Frederick and the area surrounding the YMCA; and that nearly swept away the Town of Ellicott City twice. Many of these flooding and severe weather incidents, attributed to the increasing impact of climate change, are causing major headaches for homeowners, road and infrastructure planners, and politicians trying to figure out how to lessen their damage. We’re not the only city dealing with this issue: see http://cleanbayous.org/debris-can-clog-storm-drains-2/.

Next time you hear someone complain they can no longer sweep their leaves into city streets where they end up clogging storm drains (and eventually adding sediment to Carroll Creek and the Monocacy River) remind them of the increasing number of “freak” storms and the help they are providing their fellow citizens by bagging their leaves. And if that doesn’t work, just remind them of the flooded YMCA and Ellicott City. That should help them to understand.