Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 12:57pm

“It takes all of us to keep the leaves out of the street,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said at a press conference, Oct. 23, on the City’s west side. “It takes all of us to work together, and when we do, our lakes will be a lot cleaner and our environment will be better.”

The mayor held a press conference to talk about leaf management and the impact leaves can have on water quality as a whole in the community.

“If every person raked leaves before every rain storm, we could reduce phosphorus in our lakes by 50 percent [from urban sources],” Mayor Rhodes-Conway said. “On average, a typical Fall has about eight storms. That would mean raking eight times, and we could make a massive impact.”

All residents should make a conscious effort to rake leaves out of the streets, especially before rain storms. If residents keep leaves out of the streets, phosphorus, which dissolves off of leaves when it rains, may be reduced by 50 percent from urban sources. By raking more proactively, less phosphorus would flow into our stormwater system, and eventually, less phosphorus would flow into our area waterways.

When phosphorus dissolves off leaves, it creates “leaf tea,” which then travels through storm sewers into lakes, rivers and streams. Too much phosphorus can lead to toxic algae blooms, low oxygen levels and green murky waters.

Phil Gaebler, an engineer in the City of Madison Engineering Division, demonstrated how “leaf tea” happens during the press conference. Gaebler also shared information about what the City did in the past for leaf studies. The studies have impacted the vision for leaf management and collection.

“We found, that it’s actually the leaves on the street that is causing the majority of the phosphorus transport,” Gaebler said. “Even if the leaves stay on the street, the phosphorus leaves the leaves and flows into the lakes.”

Streets Division Superintendent Charles Romines spoke about a current pilot project in the Greenbush/Vilas neighborhood underway, the City’s sweeping strategies and leaf collection.

“We’ve made some improvements to our [sweeping] schedule…what those include is in our street sweeping program. We’re staggering shifts. We’re putting our employees on four, 10-hour days. We’re staggering those so the street sweeping machines are running 25 percent more hours a week,” Romines said.

Romines said these changes have proved successful this year compared to previous years. From May 1 to the end of September, City Streets sweepers have collected “over 500 tons of additional material,” which won’t go into to local waterways.

Leaf collection began on Sept. 30 and will continue until Streets Division crews need to transition to snow and ice duties. Residents should have multiple collection opportunities this fall.
Residents should use the leaf and yard waste pickup schedule map to learn when to place yard waste to the curb to ensure collection.

To collect leaves, the Streets Division uses specially-equipped vehicles to drag or push leaf piles from the terrace. The piles are then pushed onto a large pan that is attached to a rear-loading garbage truck. The truck, then, lifts the pan and the leaves fall inside. Once the truck is full, the leaves are then hauled to a composter. After the leaves are collected, a street sweeper follows behind the crews to collect the debris left in the road as soon as possible.

“The city is doing a lot to manage leaves and to make sure they stay out of our lakes, but we do need everybody to help, but not only on your own property but also to help your neighbors,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said.

The press conference ended with a demonstration from Streets Division crews. They operated leaf management equipment and the Mayor went for a ride on a street sweeper.

The City would like to also encourage residents to mulch leaves in their lawns when possible.