A volunteer program where Charleston residents maintain clog-prone city drains has brought in a few dozen members since 2017, including members of the mayor's family, a College of Charleston researcher, military veterans and a doctor.
These guardians of the grates pluck leaves, sticks and dirt out of drains near their homes without the publicity of a highway sign or a placard for their service.
Sometimes there's trash, but most often it's yard debris, pine needles and such. There's 44 people who tend to 95 drains in the city.
Mayor John Tecklenburg said he modeled Charleston's Adopt-a-Drain program off one in Anderson. Though Anderson's program is geared toward keeping pollutants and trash out of the stormwater system and not on flooding, the idea is the same: maximize drain efficiency.
"This whole challenge has come to the floor the last few years about how critical drainage and flooding is to our city," Tecklenburg said. "I felt that this is an easy and, hopefully, meaningful way for citizens to engage in part of our efforts."
Tecklenburg said a main expense for the city is cleaning out drains with vacuum trucks, and that the program heads off the effort at the drain point. The pilot phase is ending and the city will fully implement the program, Tecklenburg said. The city now has a database of the city's drains — where they are and their conditions.
Tecklenburg acknowledged that Adopt-a-Drain isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to the city's flooding, but is another way the community can be part of the solution. Of the thousands of drains in the city, 95 are registered with individual drain tenders.
Alex Braud moved into an apartment on Elizabeth Street and found Charleston's program online and thought, "Why not?"
As a researcher with the College of Charleston looking into modeling rainfall, he said he has a familiarity with drains.
Though he hasn't had to clean his designated drain, he has unclogged one across the street when he noticed it puddling up. It was filled with leaves and clumped up dirt and sticks.
"As community members, we can't just rely on the city," Fielding said. "It's a group effort."
Fielding said she's taken pictures before and after clearing the drain. She said she's decluttered her drain once or twice since July, mostly of tree droppings, yard debris and, thankfully, she said, not any pollution.
When she goes back to school in a few weeks, Fielding's parents will take over the responsibility. Though her father Mark will take over for her, its not a new task for him — he's been cleaning them for at least 19 years.
Will Hampton, a retired military man, adopted two drains on Elmwood Avenue after he put in a work order for a backed-up storm drain. Though he is responsible for two, he keeps an eye on five in total.
Hampton said he considers it a civic duty to help out in his neighborhood. He's kept an eye on the five drains for at least a year, mainly pulling weeds, sticks and twigs. Occasionally there's trash, like bottles, cans and paper.
"All that goes down into the storm drain. It's kind of like cholesterol in your arteries," Hampton said.
Clark Belfanti has lived in Charleston since 2011. An officer with the Air Force, he signed up a few years ago to adopt a drain when he was on the county's website trying to get a new trashcan. The drain in front of his house flooded after any type of rainfall because leaves and twigs were blocking it.
When he went to sign up he learned someone else had already volunteered to tend to it, so he took one around the corner, on Peachtree Sreet.
When he would take his dog Coco for a daily walk he would check on it and find the grate would mostly fill with trash, leaves and sticks. Since Coco died, Belfanti hasn't been checking on the drains as frequently, but with two dogs set for adoption in the coming weeks he'll be back at it.
Stewart Sanford, a Charleston resident for three years after growing up in the Upstate, saw a post in a neighborhood Facebook page and signed up. Sanford, a doctor, tends to a few on Parkwood Avenue, by the Citadel and Burke High School. He said he signed up as a way to report broken and damaged drains two years ago.
"I don't know how much of an impact you can make by doing that kind of stuff but I wanted to improve the water flow downtown," Sanford said. "Anything I can contribute, I feel like would be helpful."
Sanford's maintenance approach is more seasonal because the ones he tends to aren't routinely clogged. He's cleared the drains three or four times in the past year ahead of a big rainstorm.
Jason Taylor, who is seeking a City Council seat in the Third District, joined the program in July 2018. An attorney and retired adjunct professor at the College of Charleston, he saw it promoted on different social media sites like the Facebook neighborhood association page and Nextdoor. He's lived in the Westside since 2012.
"We can't rely on government to do everything we need to take responsibility for our neighborhoods and pride in our city, too," Taylor said.
Adopters are asked to send field inspection reports after inspecting and servicing their drains. For more information, go to https://gis.charleston-sc.gov/adopt-a-storm-drain/