Small actions, large impact

Sherry White
Sherry White

By Sherry White
Guest Columnist

I had the pleasure of attending the 10th annual Minnehaha Creek Cleanup at the end of July. I joined about 2,000 other volunteers to pick up trash from around the creek and area lakes from Minnetonka to south Minneapolis.

Most people’s trash haul wasn’t massive and may not have made a significant impact on its own. But the cumulative effect of everyone pitching in was staggering: we collected a whopping 5 tons of trash – that’s right, 10,000 pounds – on that single Sunday morning.

This dynamic is at play with other ways we protect the health of our lakes and streams. One specific person may not have the power to change an unhealthy lake into a healthy one. But when lots of people take small actions, it can have a major impact. There are many ways to help the cause on your property. After all, what we do on the landscape is the major driver of the health of our waters.

Rain gardens are becoming wildly popular across the Twin Cities as a way to keep rainwater from flowing off of a property and into a storm drain, where it picks up pollutants and debris and makes its way untreated into a nearby water body. These bowl-shaped gardens put that water to good use, helping deep-rooted plants flourish and add beauty and habitat to a yard.

You can also catch the rainwater that comes off your roof in a rain barrel and use it to water your lawn or garden. This has the double benefit of conserving precious treated drinking water and reducing runoff.

Debris left on hard surfaces like driveways and sidewalks are likely to wash into the storm drain when it rains. Grass clippings, leaves, fertilizer, and de-icing salt are especially harmful to lakes, so it’s important to sweep them up. The same goes for picking up pet waste, which carries harmful bacteria.

Speaking of those storm drains, you may notice a buildup of leaves and garbage around the grates in your neighborhood. All of that is eventually headed to a nearby lake or stream, not to mention causing puddles in the meantime. People all over the metro are “adopting” storm drains, making a commitment to regularly clear and dispose of debris.

Those lucky enough to live along the water’s edge can plant deep-rooted native plants that prevent erosion, filter stormwater and provide habitat. This also deters geese and adds vibrancy to the shoreline.

Redoing a driveway? Permeable pavers are a hard surface that still allows water to pass through and soak back into the ground. This can also be an effective way of managing water on larger sites with parking lots.

These are some of the ways you can get involved with the fight to maintain our state’s most treasured resources. Some organizations even offer grants to help with clean-water projects, including the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, where I serve as president of the Board of Managers.
Learn more about what you can do at

Sherry White is president of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.