First Day of Fall – Leaf Collection Edition

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September 23, 2015

Astronomically speaking, it’s the first day of fall, or the Autumnal Equinox.

For students, it means classes have started, including for more than ten thousand new undergraduate students. For many residents, it also means watching leafs change colour and inevitably fall to the ground. And for Council, it means starting to talk about the next budget.

Falling Leaves

In addition to the Region’s curbside yard waste collection program, the City of Waterloo has been sucking up loose leafs raked to the curb for years. The intent of the program is to keep those loose leaves from clogging the stormwater system. Unfortunately, the $150,000 program has been running significantly over budget for years by an average of about $75,000, and that’s with rarely making more than one full pass through the city when we used to make two or three. Climate change is shrinking the length of the season, as warmer weather keeps leaves up longer and provides more unpredictable starts to winter weather. Starting earlier means most leaves are still on the trees, while waiting until they’re all down means risking the first snows. Rain also is a challenge, as wet leaves take longer to suck up.

Since we use our existing snow plow and salter trucks and crews to pick up leaves, when it snows we have to pull our trucks off the road to convert them back to plows and salters. As long as there is snow to remove, they can’t go back to leaf collection. All of this costs valuable leaf sucking time and overtime, more than $25,000 in 2014 alone. It means we struggle to make one full pass of the city and, since leafs often keep falling after we’ve made a pass, residents are left to remove them on their own through the Region’s yard waste program. Many also rake them to the curb anyways, leaving leafs frozen to the road and under snow for the winter, ultimately washing into the stormwater system.

In short, the program is no longer working. The Waterloo Chronicle has done a good job covering the options Council is considering, and we will decide on Budget Day in February whether to charge more to keep the program, remove the program completely, or limit it to mature treed areas only. As it takes weeks to complete one pass of the city, the other option suggested in the article about declaring a loose leaf collection week and doing the entire program then simply aren’t feasible. I would appreciate any feedback you have.

Is the city still collecting leafs this year?

Yes. The program starts on October 26 in zones West 1 and East 1. The progress of our crews will be updated daily on our loose leaf collection website. Once our crews have left your zone, please stop raking leafs to the curbside as they will end up frozen to the road and ultimately clogging our stormwater system. To dispose of leafs at that point, they need to be bagged and taken to the landfill.