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Fall/Winter Best Practices

Salt Smart - Resources for Residents
Midwest winters can be tough on our roads and commuters. Road salt is used to keep our roads safe, but the cost of using too much salt goes beyond the pavement. Excess road salt damages vehicles and infrastructure, harms our pets and plants and degrades our rivers and wetlands. Our Watershed Group member communities are using best winter practices to keep you safe while using less salt.

For more info and resources visit

 DuPage County "Falling Into Winter" Brochure 

Fall Leaf Collection Protects Rivers and Streams

Leaves are a big topic of research when it comes to water quality issues coming from residential neighborhoods in the fall. Rainwater leaches nutrients from leaves lying in the street, creating a kind of “leaf tea.” The nutrient-rich leaf tea then flows down storm drains and into local streams. The nutrients from leaves, especially phosphorous, cause algal blooms that lower oxygen levels in the stream--less oxygen makes it harder for fish and aquatic insects to live there.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the City of Madison have been working together for more than five years to study the impact of fall leaves on water quality in the Madison area, as well as how different leaf collection practices can reduce those impacts. This work is relevant to our area because we share similar weather patterns, development practices and residential tree species.

Study Results: Removing Leaves from Streets is Key to Protecting Streams 

Leaves have a greater impact on waterways than you might think. During autumn, leaf litter and other organic debris can account for 56% of the ANNUAL total phosphorus load in urban stormwater. That is over half the amount of phosphorus in urban stormwater for an entire year coming into the stream system in just six to eight weeks! 

Fortunately, the 2016 study in Madison by the USGS showed that removing leaves from the street before it rains could reduce the amount of phosphorus reaching streams from residential neighborhoods by 80%. The study proves municipal leaf collection and street cleaning can be extremely effective in preserving the health of local streams.
The study found that removing leaves from streets before it rains can prevent 80% of the phosphorus normally leached from leaves from entering rivers and streams!
There have been a number of follow-up studies that have looked at how different leaf pick-up practices could reduce the amount of phosphorus leaching into stormwater. These projects included help from residents and volunteers as well as City of Madison staff. Initially, they compared picking up all leaves on a street before a rain – every last one – to just their regular pick-up practices. A group of UW Madison students photographed streets and then collected and weighed leaves to come up with a visual way to estimate how many leaves were on a street.
There are other projects investigating whether or not different species of trees release different amounts of phosphorus.  All of this information will be helpful in customizing a leaf pick-up program that maximizes phosphorus reductions while staying within available staffing resources. An example of this might be increasing pick-ups and street sweeping in older neighborhoods that have more trees instead of the same schedule across a community.

The Bottom Line
Leaf collection and street cleaning dramatically decrease the nutrients (in this case, phosphorus) entering local rivers and streams. Street cleaning is most effective if done right before a storm. This prevents the rainwater from washing leaves on the street into storm drains that lead directly to rivers.

What Can You Do?
As residents you can do your part too. Look for ways to use leaves at home – mulch flower beds or around trees, add to your compost pile, mulch with mower and make leaf mold to add to your garden next year.  If you can’t find a way to use all of your leaves and need to put them out for collection, keep them out of the street. If you have a storm sewer inlet in front of your house, be sure to keep it clear of leaves and other debris. 

If you can't find a way to use leaves at home, participate in your community's leaf pick-up program. Most importantly, keep leaves and other yard waste out of the street to protect local streams!

State Agencies Remind Residents to Prepare for Winter Weather
Read the Full Release of Reminders from the State of Illinois

While the official start of winter is not for several weeks, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL), Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM), Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the National Weather Service (NWS) are encouraging people to begin preparing now for extreme cold, snow and ice.
Keep in mind, being prepared for winter doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. It could be as simple as making sure your vehicle is in good winter driving condition, adding a winter survival kit to your car, changing your furnace filter at home and stocking or updating your family’s emergency supply kit. Take time now to prepare your family, home, vehicles and driving habits for everything from a dusting of snow to a major winter storm.
For more information about winter weather preparedness, visit the Ready Illinois website at 

When checking and restocking a vehicle’s emergency supply kit, make sure it contains items such as:

  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Non-perishable snack food
  • Water
  • Sand or cat litter
  • Shovel
  • Booster cables
  • Cell phone charger

Winter Weather Health Hazards

Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause serious problems including hypothermia, a drop in the body’s core temperature. It doesn’t require negative temperatures and can set in when you’re outdoors or in. Hypothermia is especially dangerous and can be deadly if not detected promptly and treated properly.

Frostbite occurs when your extremities (fingers, toes, nose, and ears) are exposed to cold weather. The skin may become stiff and numb, leading to severe tissue damage.  Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation.

“Workers in Illinois, including first responders, construction workers and public works crews brave the elements year-round. It’s critical these workers – and others – prepare for severe conditions. While it starts with dressing properly for the weather, it’s also important your body is prepared for additional stress,” said Illinois Department of Labor Director Michael Kleinik.

Medical professionals encourage people who must work outside regularly in the winter weather consider scheduling a physical exam before that winter work begins.

Recognize Home Heating Dangers

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Center for Health Statistics, in 2017, 399 people died of unintentional non-fire carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. In 2016, local fire departments in the U.S. responded to 79,600 carbon monoxide incidents, or an average of nine such calls per hour. CO is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it. During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet from all heat sources including fireplaces, wood stoves,
  • radiators, space heaters and candles.
  • Create a kid-free zone around open fires and space heaters
  • Never use an oven to heat your home
  • Turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed. heaters need space!
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before being placed into a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
  • Install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors on each floor of your home and within 15 feet of each sleeping area.
  • CO detectors have a limited life span, check the manufacturer’s instructions for information on replacement.
  • Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from doors, windows and vents.