When it comes to long-term flood prevention, it’s probably best to leave those complex solutions to the professionals. But any Houston resident can help reduce residential street flooding. It’s as simple as sweeping.
Just in time for hurricane season, Houston Public Works and Keep Houston Beautiful are asking Houstonians to pitch in to keep our city’s storm drainage system flowing free from obstructions like litter and yard debris.
The new Adopt-A-Drain program requires little effort, but could positively impact taxpayers, employees and the environment.
Adopt-A-Drain participants pledge to clean 10 feet on both sides of their adopted drain at least four times per year. To clean the drains, you only need basic household tools like a broom, shovel, gloves and a compostable yard waste bag.
The program, which was developed from a 2017 Hackathon project, is intended to enhance resident engagement, prevent flooding, and defray costs of storm sewer maintenance. The city spends $13 million a year on storm drain maintenance, inspection and repairs, according to a Houston Public Works press release.
“Anyone in the community can help by adopting a drain and promising to keep it free from leaves and trash, especially before it rains,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “These are just small actions that can add up to make a big difference for our entire city.”
Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock said Houstonians can help the city prepare for hurricane season.
"We know that there will be another storm, and this program will make a daily difference in the lives of our residents by making sure that your storm drainage system is ready for the next storm," Haddock said.
The program caught on quickly, after officials announced it in April. In the last two months, 1,135 drains have been adopted. Officials say that can make a real difference along city streets where the adopted drains are. But with more than 75,000 storm drains eligible for adoption, there’s a long way to go.
Driving the program’s popularity is the ability for participants to name their drain. Media outlets caught wind and published lists of funny drain names. (See our favorite drain names in the sidebar.) Unfortunately, the name game was temporarily spoiled when participants spiced up their drain names with profanity and adult content. The interactive Adopt-A-Drain website is still available, but the full list of names is not visible to the public.
All fun and games aside, the Houston Public Works expects participants to take their responsibility seriously.
Braxton Coles, maintenance manager for Houston Public Works Storm Sewer Section, said his team is responsible for maintaining all underground drainage in the City of Houston’s 650 square miles including about 155,000 inlets and nearly 100,000 manholes.
“It’s impossible for us to inspect them all every year,” Coles said. “Just like there can’t be a police officer on every corner, we are asking for Houstonians to help us in their own neighborhoods.
“We want this program to catch on everywhere; we need it everywhere,” Coles said. “We live here, and this is our city, too. We care just as much about Sunnyside as the Heights, we care just as much about Fifth Ward as Tanglewood. We want everybody to get on board.”
The Adopt-A-Drain program is seeking volunteers, but Coles pointed out that city ordinance states that curbs, gutters, sidewalks roadside ditches are the abutting property owners’ responsibility to maintain.
“This is part of basic home maintenance that most people already do,” Coles said. “You should know not to let leaves, grass and trash accumulate around your storm drain. Check your inlets on a regular basis. Add it to yard maintenance routine, if you see grass clippings or debris, sweep them up. It doesn’t take but a couple of minutes to make sure drains are clear so the water can flow.”
“We’re not asking you to get out there with a jackhammer or backhoe, but if there is trash in the gutter, clean it up,” Coles said. “If the rain comes, trash is going to go into the storm sewer and could eventually drain into lakes or Galveston Bay, where it becomes a drinking water issue or hazard for wildlife.”
In addition to trash, Coles said grass, leaves and mud can be especially stubborn to remove if left to accumulate in drain grates.
“Once grass gets down into the drain, it sticks just like a brick out on the bottom of the drain. Leaves are worse,” Coles said. “We get inspection service requests about inlets that are flooded, and we send out an inspector just to find out the flooding is caused by surface debris that could easily be swept away. It’s a waste of city resources.”
Watch this promotional video from Houston Public Works