Earth Day’s golden anniversary is coming up fast, but how do we observe it in the age of social distancing? Gathering volunteers together for a big cleanup is out of the question. But that doesn’t mean we can’t observe Earth Day in a visibly symbolic and ecologically substantive way, separate but together in our own neighborhoods.

Adopt-a-Drain MN invites us to honor Earth Day’s 50th birthday by cleaning up our own streets between April 17 and April 30. Adopting a storm drain is an easy way to have a positive impact on the environment while maintaining safe social distance.

Adopt-a-Drain is a program that asks residents to protect nearby lakes, rivers and wetlands by “adopting” a storm drain near their home. Just find a drain and clear it of leaves, garbage and other gunk that otherwise would flow straight into our watersheds. Then report your work on the Adopt-a-Drain website so we can track our progress.

That’s all there is to it! By spending a few minutes cleaning up a drain a couple times each month, volunteers prevent trash and organic pollutants from flowing through storm drains and into waterways.

Since its launch in 2014, Adopt-a-Drain’s 6,000 participants have adopted more than 10,000 drains. (That’s right, we are the land of 10,000 adopted drains.) In the process, we have prevented nearly 200,000 pounds of debris from washing down storm drains and into Minnesota’s lakes and rivers.

Adopting a storm drain is a family-friendly activity that can enrich learning at home. New volunteers and existing Adopt-a-Drain members who report what they pick up between April 17 and 30 will receive a limited edition temporary tattoo in the mail. To participate, residents in the seven-county metro area, Rochester and St. Cloud just need to adopt a storm drain and report the amount of debris they collect at

The Science Museum of Minnesota is partnering with the Adopt-a-Drain program to promote the Earth Day Birthday celebration. All adopters are encouraged to post photos and videos of their cleaning activities on social media by tagging @adoptadrain and using the hashtags #adoptadrain and #earthdaybirthday2020.

Even though many community cleanup events have been canceled, we can still honor Earth Day by taking joint action to protect Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. Adopt-a-Drain invites everyone to participate in this safe way during social distancing.


Bill Brady is a retired Twin Cities public relations professional. His adopted storm drains are at the corner of Hamline and Larpenteur Avenues in St. Paul.