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Grass clippings, among other things, in storm drains are now officially a no-no in Willmar

The Willmar City Council approved an amendment to the surface water management ordinance, officially prohibiting the illicit discharge of things such as grass, leaves, chemicals and excess salt into the city stormwater system.

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The Willmar City Council approved an amendment to its stormwater ordinance, prohibiting the illicit discharge of things such as grass and chemicals into the stormwater system. West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — For years the Willmar Public Works Department has been asking residents to keep grass clippings, leaves, chemicals and pretty much everything but water out of the city's stormwater drains. After Monday's Willmar City Council meeting, staff members now have an ordinance to fall back on when talking with people.

After a public hearing, the council unanimously approved amending the Surface Water Management Ordinance, adding to the discharge prohibitions section of the ordinance. The updated ordinance now specifically says that grass clippings, leaves, tree branches and other vegetative materials, chemicals, petroleum-based products, excess salt, sand or other materials from snow and ice removal cannot be illicitly discharged into the stormwater system. The system is not only just the drains in the street, but driveways, parking areas, streets, alleys and sidewalks.

The city had to amend the ordinance due to state permit requirements.

"It requires the city to develop, implement and enforce a regulatory mechanism, such as an ordinance, that prohibits non-stormwater discharge into our municipal separate storm sewer system," said Sara Sietsema, Willmar environmental specialist.

Violating this ordinance could result in a misdemeanor charge, City Attorney Robert Scott said.

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"There are options available if there is evidence of repeated offenders violating these provisions," Scott said.

However, Sietsema hopes charges won't be needed. Instead, the staff plans to educate the public, including sending out information to lawn services and using the city's social media accounts to spread the word.

"We want to do education. We want to tell people this doesn't belong in stormwater, that this goes directly in our lakes," Sietsema said. "Education, generally in these circumstances, will take care of these issues."

Sietsema first introduced the amended ordinance at the June 7 council meeting, following the annual stormwater presentation, which reviewed the stormwater projects the city completed and how Willmar is staying in compliance with its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit and its pollution prevention plan.

In 2020, staff completed smoke testing of the sanitary sewer along Fourth Street Southwest in downtown, which showed several illicit roof drain connections, that were corrected, and uncovered a section of sanitary pipe that had deteriorated. That section will be lined with a ultraviolet, cured-in-place pipe lining to prevent stormwater and groundwater infiltration.

Staff also conducted 42 construction site inspections, 13 stormwater pond/wetland inspections and 38 outfall inspections. Street sweeping collected more than 6,000 yards of debris from the system.

Sietsema also urged residents to think about enrolling in the Adopt-A-Storm Drain program , which can also help keep drains and the stormwater system clean and running efficiently. Other ways residents can help keep Willmar's stormwater free from containments is planting a rain garden, using a rain barrel , using less salt on sidewalks and driveways, pick up pet waste, wash vehicles on grass and don't over water lawns and gardens.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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