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How to Clean Stormwater Drains

Storm drains are important in managing excess rainwater in urban environments, yet they are frequently ignored until a problem arises. Over time, these drains can become clogged and potentially lead to significant property damage and environmental issues.

Cleaning stormwater drains regularly is essential to ensure they function properly. To prevent issues, it’s important to regularly clear storm drains of debris. Regular maintenance, including routine inspections and the use of drain guards, can significantly reduce the likelihood of future clogs. This approach not only keeps the drains functioning properly but also helps in maintaining a safe and clean community environment.

Common causes of blockages include leaves, trash, construction materials, oil, chemicals, and sediment build-up. These blockages can lead to serious problems such as local flooding and water pollution. Additionally, stagnant water from clogged drains can become a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes and pose other health risks.

This guide will walk you through the importance of storm drains and how to maintain them. Learn how to keep your city’s infrastructure robust and responsive to environmental needs.

A storm drain

How Plumbers Clean Storm Drains

When it comes to unclogging storm drains, plumbers follow specific steps to ensure safety and effectiveness. The following are some of the steps they take to effectively unclog a storm drain:

Safety First

Safety is important when working on storm drains. Plumbers wear protective gear such as heavy-duty gloves, safety goggles, and non-slip boots to guard against sharp objects and contaminants. 

If the drain is in a traffic area, they set up safety signs or cones to alert motorists. Working in pairs is standard practice, and they often notify local authorities to help manage traffic and ensure safety during the operation.

Inspect the Drain

The process begins with removing any grate or cover using appropriate tools like a crowbar or screwdriver. Plumbers then inspect the drain with a flashlight to assess the type and extent of the clog and check for any damage to the drain walls. 

Remove Visible Debris

Using tools such as rakes, brooms, or pitchforks, plumbers clear out all visible debris, including leaves, twigs, garbage, and sediment. This step is important as it prevents further accumulation and blockage. They ensure all debris is thoroughly collected and disposed of properly to prevent re-entry into the drainage system.

Use a Plumbing Snake for Deeper Clogs

For deeper or more stubborn blockages, plumbers use a plumbing snake or drain auger. They carefully insert this tool into the drain until they feel resistance, then gently rotate the snake to dislodge or hook the clog for extraction. They are careful to apply only necessary force to avoid damaging the pipes.

Flush with Water

After clearing the clog, plumbers flush the drain with a high-pressure garden hose or pour buckets of water to wash away any remaining debris. This step also helps to check for additional blockages, ensuring the drain is completely clear. Effective water flow during this test indicates a successful unclog.

Regular Maintenance

Plumbers recommend regular maintenance to keep storm drains in good working order. This includes routine inspections and clean-ups, particularly before and after the rainy season. Such preventative measures help avoid major clogs and identify potential issues early on.

Understanding Storm Drains

Storm drains are an essential part of city infrastructure. They are designed to handle excess rainwater from streets, parking lots, and other paved areas. Their main job is to prevent flooding by quickly directing this water away from built-up areas and into rivers, lakes, or the ocean. 

Unlike the sewage system, which treats household wastewater, storm drains usually do not treat the water before it’s released into natural water bodies.

These systems are made up of a grate on the street surface connected to a network of underground pipes. It’s important for everyone to remember that whatever goes into these drains ends up in our natural waters. 

That’s why keeping them clear of pollutants and debris is important not just for preventing flooding but also for protecting our environment.

Common Causes of Storm Drain Blockages

Storm drain blockages can cause significant problems, from minor street flooding to major water damage in urban areas. Knowing what commonly causes these blockages can help in preventing them. 

Here are some of the most frequent culprits:

  • Leaves and Natural Debris: In areas with many trees, leaves, branches, and other natural debris can accumulate in storm drains. This is especially during the fall or after storms.
  • Trash and Litter: Improperly disposed of trash, such as plastic bags, bottles, and cigarette butts, can easily find their way into storm drains and clog them, preventing water from flowing freely.
  • Construction Materials: In urban areas undergoing construction, materials like sand, gravel, and even chunks of concrete can spill into drains.
  • Oil and Chemicals: Cars and other vehicles can leak oil, antifreeze, and other chemicals onto the streets that wash into storm drains. These then stick to other debris and creating clogs.
  • Sediment Build-up: Over time, sediment from eroded soils can accumulate in the pipes. This gradually reduces the drain’s capacity and eventually leading to blockages.

Effects of Clogged Storm Drains

Clogged storm drains can lead to various issues that impact both the environment and community safety. 

Below are some of the consequences:

  1. Flooding: The most immediate and visible effect of a clogged storm drain is localized flooding. When drains cannot channel water effectively, it builds up quickly, flooding streets, parking lots, and even properties. This not only causes inconvenience but can also lead to significant property damage.
  2. Water Pollution: Clogged drains often overflow, which can lead to pollutants like trash, chemicals, and organic materials being carried into natural water bodies. This contamination affects local wildlife and can degrade the quality of water resources.
  3. Traffic Disruptions: Flooded roads from blocked storm drains can disrupt traffic flow. This may lead to longer travel times, vehicle damage, and even accidents. This disruption is particularly problematic during heavy rain.
  4. Health Risks: Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can spread diseases such as West Nile virus and Zika virus. Pooled water can also harbor bacteria and mold. This may pose health risks to people and pets.
  5. Increased Maintenance Costs: Regularly dealing with the effects of clogged storm drains can lead to increased public spending on maintenance and repair services.


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