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Lawn care tips for protecting area lakes

In summer, Minnesotans enjoy every one of their 10,000-plus lakes. After months of being cooped up, it’s understandable.

Yet summer is when people often unknowingly damage the very lakes they love by polluting them with phosphorous. Phosphorous is in anything that once lived. This means soil, grass, leaves and pet waste.

Rainwater and snow runoff can whisk the material into storm drains. It is not treated. It goes directly into area lakes, rivers and streams, causing accelerated algae and weed growth.

Some tips for keeping phosphorous out of lakes, rivers and streams include:

  • Keep surfaces clean — Keep leaves, grass clippings and other lawn debris off driveways and sidewalks. The City of Detroit Lakes has a nuisance ordinance that prohibits putting yard waste onto city streets and sidewalks, as it not only causes phosphate runoff, but it also creates hazardous slippery conditions when wet and plugs catch basins causing local flooding. 
  • Direct downspouts — Direct downspouts away from impervious surfaces. (They can carry leaves from gutters.) Make sure the water from your gutters is directed to the lawn where nutrients will be appreciated.
  • Remove debris — Remove debris from storm drains and bag it for proper disposal.
  • Use edging — Place edging around plants so the soil stays put.
  • Keep soil intact — To keep soil from shifting, reseed, plant ground cover, or use wood shavings or mulch.
  • Clean carefully — Clean your lawn and garden equipment over grass, not on hard surfaces where runoff can occur.
  • Double bag pet waste — And dispose of all pet waste in trash.
  • Save fertilizer until fall — Fertilizer (if it’s needed at all) is most effectively applied in the fall. Phosphorous isn’t the only pollutant. Here are other ways to protect waters. Consider the environment when maintaining vehicles and boats.
  • Avoid washing vehicles at home — The dirty, soapy water flows into storm drains. Instead, use commercial car washes where water is drained into sanitary sewers and treated before discharge.
  • Dispose properly — Bring motor oil to free drop-off sites. Never spill gas, motor oil, washer fluid, antifreeze or other car-care products on hard surfaces or lawns.
  • Clean — Shake and wash floor mats on the lawn, not the driveway.

If you have questions about keeping phosphorous out of our lakes, you can call the Pelican River Watershed District at (218) 846-0436 or go to their website at

For questions pertaining to City of Detroit Lakes Ordinances, visit the City website at