For those of us concerned about increasingly frequent flooding and its erosion of our quality of life, there is a lot we simply can’t do as individuals. We can’t rebuild or upgrade our stormwater infrastructure. We can’t single-handedly change zoning and permitting rules or replace parking lots with lots of parks. And we can’t control Mother Nature.
But we can — and should — consider doing one simple, easy thing: occasionally checking — and clearing, if necessary — the storm drains near where we live or work.
Yes, we expect our local government to maintain our storm drains, but it’s unrealistic to expect a limited staff to check thousands of storm drains after every heavy rain that might have clogged them with leaves, plastic bags and other debris — or even every month. The city’s stormwater crews and their vacuum trucks also have to clean out sediment inside the drainage pipes, not only on their mouths.
When Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg first ran for mayor, he campaigned on a pledge to look for small drainage fixes as well as multimillion-dollar solutions. In 2017, he created the city’s Adopt-a-Drain program. The good news is that about 250 drains have been officially adopted; the bad news — or, as an optimist might say, the ripe opportunity for those who care about the city — is that there are thousands more that still could be adopted.
It's simple to sign up on the city's website, and the program is expected to get a boost soon as the city and the S.C. Department of Transportation, which owns and maintains most roads within the city, announce a deal to add still more drains to the city's adoption program. We hope that gives the program a fresh round of publicity and sparks more interest — and sign-ups.
The mayor based the city’s program off one in Anderson. Charleston has an official program, but those living in other cities or outside municipalities should consider doing something similar. No one will arrest you for picking up trash. Just be careful and use common sense. Some storm drains in Charleston aren’t placed on the adoption list because they’re on the busiest highways and therefore not as safe to tend.
Those who sign up for the program will learn that the benefits go beyond easing localized flooding. Removing litter and debris keeps streets looking better and helps improve our local water quality by reducing trash that eventually could end up in our rivers and marshes. Most of our water pollution comes from stormwater runoff.
While Charleston’s adopters are asked to send field inspection reports after inspecting and servicing their drains, there’s no penalty or liability if they don’t. Basically, the city appreciates any help it can get.
This sort of work by itself won’t prevent us from being declared a disaster area, but it can make a small difference in how quickly a stormwater puddle grows during a rain — and how quickly it disappears afterward. And it’s something all of us can do in the face of the ever-growing threat from flooding. Besides, of course, complaining about it.