Grant Feature #4: Leaf management in the City of Madison


Can garbage trucks help protect our lakes?

A partnership toward leaf management

Clean Lakes Alliance is excited to partner with the City of Madison for this month’s Clean Lakes Alliance Community Grant.

Leaf management is a crucial step toward reducing the amount of phosphorus that reaches our lakes. Through a Clean Lakes Alliance grant awarded for 2018, the City of Madison is working to promote leaf management and leaf-free streets. Clean Lakes Alliance has contributed $4500, which will leverage a $9300 total project budget.

The City of Madison paired with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to monitor phosphorus in the City’s storm drainage system. The study shows a direct correlation between the mass of leaves in the street and the amount of phosphorus reaching our lakes.

Leaf management campaign

The City of Madison is using a multi-faceted approach in its leaf management promotion. Public service announcements will appear on four city garbage trucks from August through early December 2018. Ads wrapping the trucks will promote mulching leaves and leaf clean-up messaging alerts. Fliers will be included in October water utility bills educating homeowners about the benefits of leaf-free streets.

A social media marketing approach will also be put into place to increase leaf management education. The campaign will include messages about raking alternatives, such as mulching leaves with lawn mowers. Research shows mulched leaves enrich soil and help retain soil moisture, an option few residents realize can improve lake health while improving their own lawn quality. Mulching reduces the need for bagging and hauling, saves tax dollars on leaf collection, and protects plants through the winter season while improving water quality.

Get involved

The marketing campaign will let citizens know they can improve lake and river health by keeping leaves out of the street. Before it rains, alerts via text or email will be sent to subscribers of Ripple Effects (, reminding residents it’s time to clear away leaves.

How does this help our lakes?

More than 50% of the phosphorus in urban storm water comes from leaves in our streets. Leaves create a “tea bag effect.” Water passes through the leaves, allowing phosphorus to drain from the leaves and move through storm sewers to lakes and rivers, potentially fueling toxic algae blooms which can harm people and animals.

What’s next?

The City of Madison will measure results of their efforts in late 2018. Data collected will be used to research leaf and phosphorus trends over time.

Thank you to the City of Madison for bringing this important project to the Yahara Watershed. Clean Lakes Alliance is excited to invest in the City of Madison’s project to improve water quality in our lakes!

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