Leaf pickup keeps drains, streams clear

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WALLA WALLA — Last week city crews kicked off a local fall tradition, one that will cost city residents $124,000 this year.

When it comes to the city’s annual curbside leaf collection service, you might says it’s a program the city just can’t leave undone.

“Our Storm Water permit prohibits illicit discharges into the Storm Water system and anything other than storm water such as leaves ... is considered an illicit discharge,” Public Works Manger Mori Struve said in an email correspondence to the Union-Bulletin, where he was asked a number of questions about the leaf collection program.

In short, the Department of Ecology won’t allow the city to let its leaves flow into the storm drain and, eventually, into local streams where they can damage ecosystems and hurt species like salmon.

So most cities with critical riparian habitats often find themselves cleaning leaves off streets and encouraging residents to properly dispose of their leaves. Though the methods, costs and funding vary, the goals are generally the same.

In Richland, residents can use one of several city collection sites or pay for a green waste bin service.

Walla Walla also offers leaf collection sites at Howard Tieten or Pioneer parks, or residents can pay extra for a green waste bin, which is set out on the curb on a weekly basis.

As for the costs, Richland Solid Waste Manager Kip Eagles said its bin service and collection sites run about $56,000 a year, but it doesn’t do curbside collection.

Spokane offers curbside leaf pickup, as long as you keep your leaves off the street.

Spokane’s policy states “the leaves that fall in your yard are your responsibility. The Refuse Department will accept your leaves for a small fee.” But those may not be pushed into the street. Instead they can be accumulated off-street near the curb.

Should Walla Walla consider a similar policy where leaves would be accumulated off-street?

“The fact that Street Trees located in the City Right of Way drop leaves on the paved roadway necessitates some method of leaf removal (street sweeping alone would not be practical in that the sweeper’s capacity for containing leaves is limited). Given this, as a service to residents the City has considered it reasonable to allow residents to rake leaves to the roadway and pick them up as a part of the overall program to clear roadways of leaves,” Struve wrote.

Residents being allowed to push their leaves into the street is in no way a rarity.

Some cities incorporate huge suction rigs that mulch and bale the leaves as they move along residential neighborhoods.

In Pullman, city crews perform their leaf collection very much like crews in Walla Walla.

Every November, Pullman residents push their leaves into the streets for city crews to collect them. And just like in Walla Walla, Pullman’s leaves are mulched at a landfill.

The two main difference between Walla Walla and Pullman are funding and scheduling.

The cost for Pullman’s leaf collection program was about $32,000 in 2010. The same year in Walla Walla saw a budget of $110,950 for the leaf collection program. But Pullman does only one round of curbside leaf pickup. Second rounds are only on an as-needed basis, while Walla Walla schedules two rounds.

Pullman pays for its curbside leaf pickup through a stormwater fee. With a population of roughly 30,000, the costs to each Pullman household is roughly $7 a year.

In Walla Walla, the leaf collection service is paid through monthly sanitation bills.

So in 2010, an average Walla Walla household paid 41 cents a month or $4.92 a year for curbside leaf collection.

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