"Every time I drive through a neighborhood and see someone dumping grass clippings or leaves into a storm drain or, worse yet, chemicals in one form or another, I cringe," says master gardener Paul James.
The reason the sight bothers Paul is simple: what goes down the storm drain almost always ends up in some nearby body of water, usually a stream or river. And many of those rivers and streams ultimately flow to some larger body of water including those from which we get our drinking water. Grass clippings and leaves may seem harmless enough but they can quickly clog storm drains and lead to flooding. They may also contain harmful chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides.
"Besides, the practice is downright wasteful since grass clippings and leaves are best disposed of in the compost pile or left to rot where they fall," he says. "And the dangers of pouring lawn and garden chemicals directly down the drain are obvious — or should be — and yet people do it all the time."
But, according to Paul, certain plants pose the greatest threats in specific parts of the country, especially the South. Two popular aquatic plants — namely water hyacinth and water lettuce — have explosive growth rates, and in no time at all can clog inland waterways.
"So when you've got stuff to get rid of — plant refuse, garden chemicals and so on — please take the time to dispose of it properly," Paul urges, "and remember that what goes down a storm drain must come back up somewhere, and that somewhere may be in the form of your city's water drinking supply or your favorite fishing hole!"