Placing leaves into creeks and drains risks fine

Leaf season is fast approaching, and the people who watch over water quality want you to know that you can't just throw a pile of leaves into the street, or a creek – or down a storm drain.

You could be fined if you do.

“Most people don't know that what goes out in the street goes directly to a creek or lake,” said Jennifer Krupowicz, spokeswoman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services. “So yard waste becomes a storm water pollutant. And if we get a summer shower or even a small rain storm and experience flooding, a lot of times it has to do with yard debris clogging storm drains.”

Many times after streets flood, workers find grass clippings and leaves stuffed in storm drains. Once they're pulled out, the flooding quickly drains.

Once Krupowicz saw a flooded creek where a grocery bag had hung up on a log and caught enough yard waste to clog the stream.

“Many people think that because grass and leaves are nature, they can put it back in nature and everything will be OK,” she said. “If it was just you and me, it wouldn't be a problem. But when you have a lot of people dumping large amounts of yard debris in streams, or on banks or in storm drains, the environment just can't assimilate that much organic matter at once.”

Legally, leaves can be stuffed into clear plastic bags and placed at the curb for pickup. Dark garbage bags are permitted, but they shouldn't be tied, Krupowicz said. The city will take them away at your normal yard waste pickup.

They can also be dumped on compost piles or in natural areas to decompose. The county offers a four-hour composting class. For more information, go to www.wipeoutwaste.com.

Left to decompose in creek water, yard waste “super-fertilizes” the water and becomes toxic to aquatic life, she said. When it's left on stream banks, it can clog creeks and smother vegetation that prevents erosion.

Krupowicz said her department tries to educate residents before issuing a fine. The fines are considered only if residents or landscapers become a chronic problem after several warnings.