Alberta county invites local kids to adopt and care for storm drains

clogged storm drain
The program encourages residents to clear storm drains of leaves and other debris that may block the drain and lead to flooding. Photo credit: John Borda, AdobeStock.

Residential neighbourhoods can be prone to clogged storm drains from leaves, gravel, litter and yard clippings, so one Alberta county of about 100,000 residents is conducting an experiment for children to adopt the drains, name them, and keep them clean, all while learning about urban infrastructure in the process.

Officials in Alberta’s Strathcona County believe its new Adopt a Drain program could be an innovative way to teach kids about how what happens on their street is directly connected to the health of society’s waterways. In this case, the lesson is that clogs that aren’t cleared can lead to neighbourhood flooding.

“It’s a fun way to involve children in giving back to the community,” says Kendra Vander Kooy, water conservation program liaison, in a media statement. “It’s a great way to teach children about our local watershed and how everything is connected in our water system,” she added.

All families need to do is provide a name and email contact to the Adopt a Drain program, give the storm drain a name, then choose a desired adoption time of one, two or five years. After this time, the storm drain will become available on the interactive map for others to adopt.

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Strathcona officials recommend using gloves, a rake, broom and dustpan or shovel to push the leaves and other debris away from a blocked storm drain grate. The best time to check on the storm drain is before and after a heavy rainfall, before the snow melts and in the fall when trees lose their leaves.

Even if they don’t live near a stormwater pond, Strathcona officials believe the program can demonstrate how kids can still have a direct impact. Children can learn that, unlike the water that goes down a sink or toilet in their home, stormwater is untreated and flows directly to the nearest lake, river or ocean. That means debris like cigarettes or the illegal dumping of oils or swimming pool chemicals can have an impact on water quality and the health of aquatic life.

“As the water flows into the storm drain it takes this debris along with it, making its way to the local stormwater pond and eventually the North Saskatchewan River,” Strathcona officials state in a description about the Adopt a Drain program.

Increased organic matter in stormwater ponds and rivers means an increase in nutrients. More nutrients can lead to an increase in algae and aquatic weeds that can also be harmful to aquatic life, Strathcona officials said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that households improperly dump about 193 million gallons of used oil every year, or roughly the equivalent of 17 Exxon Valdez oil spills.

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