• Put leaves in clear plastic bags.
• If you don't bag, keep the leaf piles at the edge of the property and not in the street.
• Don't fill the ditches with leaves since a rain could flush them into the drains, causing a water backup.
• Burn leaves in the yard, not the ditch
Source: Cleveland, Catoosa County public works departments
CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Leaf season is coming so be kind to your neighborhood storm drains.
That's the advice from officials who must deal with drains that are clogged by piles of leaves either raked or blown out of yards during the fall. Such piles often cause water to back up in ditches and drains, creating local floods, including temporary street ponds that can cause traffic problems.
"Then the city comes along and unstops them and suddenly there's a large volume of water," Councilman Richard Banks
The surge can carry leaves, grass clippings and other debris through the system and into steams, threatening fish and other animals that live there.
"They go straight into the streams and fish can't survive," said Jonathan Jobe, director of the Cleveland's development and engineering department.
The problem is not unique to Cleveland. Several other cities and counties in the region say leaf-stuffed drains are a headache, too.
"Huge problem," said Catoosa County Stormwater Director James Davis. "We have a real bad problem with people burning their leaves in ditches. People don't realize it actually stops up the ditches."
The county also has a problem with people raking leaves and branches into ditches, which stops them up.
"There's only one crew for the whole county. They clean ditches all week long," Davis said.
Technically, pushing leaves into the ditch is littering, which could result in a fine from $40 to $1,000, he said.
"That would be a last resort. We try to talk to people," Davis said.
In Dunlap, Tenn., Field Supervisor Clayton Smith said the Sequatchie County seat has an annual battle with leaves, too.
When most Dunlap residents rake their leaves into neat piles near the curb, a good heavy rain is all it takes to wash them into the nearest drain if they're not disposed of in time, he said.
The Cleveland Public Works Department begins its annual leaf season on Nov. 1 and it runs through the end of January. During that time, Director Tommy Myers said, clearing away autumn leaves becomes the primary focus of the department, barring emergencies.
The department will pick up leaves in clear plastic bags any time of year, he said, and clear bags lets city crews know it's not just household garbage.
Staff writers Tim Omarzu and Ben Benton contributed to this story.