The problem with leaves

Leaves are organic. They just break down and disappear, right?

Wrong. Leaf litter is one of the biggest contaminants when it comes to stormwater.

Each autumn, millions of deciduous trees all over the ACT and region put on an amazing show of autumn colour and then drop all their leaves. Street sweepers collect some and keen gardeners turn them into mulch and compost, but most are washed or blown into the stormwater system and into our creeks, rivers and lakes.

It’s not just autumn leaves that cause problems. Native trees drop leaves as well, particularly during summer. Then there’s grass clippings, prunings, tree bark and animal droppings. Yes, that’s right - your pooch’s poo is toxic to our waterways too .

When nutrients go bad

All these organics add up to what’s called a high nutrient load. Sounds like good news. Again, no.

Nutrients are good for our waterways but excessive nutrients cause all sorts of problems, including blue-green algal blooms which often result in lake closures.

Like algae, aquatic plants thrive on nutrients but when the load is too high, explosive growth can occur, followed by rapid decay and depleted oxygen levels. And we all know that without oxygen, aquatic animals die

What to do with leaves

  • Never blow or rake leaves into the stormwater drain. They decompose and produce harmful levels of polluting nutrients that end up in our waterways, including lakes and rivers.
  • Don’t blow or rake them into the street or gutter for the street sweepers to collect. The next windy or rainy day will send those leaves into the stormwater system.
  • Instead, rake up the leaves and grass on your block and on your nature strip. Turn them into mulch or compost, take them to a green waste recycling facility or, if you have one, put them in your green waste bin.
  • The accumulation of leaves in our waterways leads to excessive nutrient loads. We can all play our part to collect and reuse or recycle the leaves from our blocks and street to help keep our waterways healthy.

Roads ACT conducts a street sweeping program to remove leaves and debris from gutters along our road network. For further information, including the street sweeping schedule, refer to the Transport Canberra and City Services website.

Watch out for pedestrians when working on your nature strip and never stand on the road while working.

Green grass and leaves down the drain