It’s the time of year when the leaves are changing colors and falling to the ground, which means it’s also when people pull out their rakes and spend time picking up leaves. While it’s tempting to push the leaves down the storm drains and be done with it, this can cause serious problems.

Clay Morris, an engineer with Prince William County’s Public Works Department, said putting leaves in storm drains is not an option. “There are several issues with putting leaves in storm drains. The stormwater system is meant to relieve any kind of flooding to surrounding properties. Shoving leaves down there can create a blockage, and that can be problematic and expensive to fix. Not to mention, putting leaves down a storm drain is against the law,” Morris said. “The County Code spells out what can go down the storm drain, and only rain is allowed down the drain.”

There’s also the problem of excess nutrients getting into the water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Being part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Prince William County is bound by law to keep pollutants out of its waterways. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates how much pollutants and sediments enter a locality’s waterways on a given day. Leaves in the storm drain can cause that number to jump, Morris said. “When you’re shoving leaves in a drain, that wouldn’t normally end up in a stream, it can cause a nutrient spike, which is a problem.”

The nutrients from leaves decomposing on the ground, however, are filtered by soil, Morris said.

So, what can you do with all those leaves? The department’s spokeswoman, Deb Oliver, recommends mulching them. “While you can’t put them down the drain, you can mulch your leaves and leave them on the lawn, which adds really valuable carbon to the yard.”

If mulching at home isn’t the answer, the county has two facilities that mulch yard waste and turn it into compost. Leaves can be taken to the Prince William County Landfill at 14811 Dumfries Road or the Balls Ford Road Yard Waste Compost Facility at 13000 Balls Ford Road in Manassas.

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