City Crews Clear Storm Drains

With more rainy weather forecast for early next week, crews from the city's Public Works Department are fanned-out across the city today, cleaning hundreds of storm drains. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, it's a proactive way to reduce the risk of flooding and traffic disruption.

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For 13-year Public Works veteran Charles Williams, pulling debris out of storm drains is an everyday thing.

"We've seen baseballs, toys, kitchen utensils, sometimes oil filters, bucket tops, hub caps. It's a variety of stuff that's sometimes been discarded, sometimes goes in there accidentally."

Williams and a partner make up one of ten crews that clean drains in Houston, a full-time job that includes lifting heavy manholes and drain covers and then using specialized equipment including a giant vacuum, called a Vac-con to suck up the debris.

"We take a section at a time and we just do that whole section and check all the drains and all the manholes. Sometimes we have to rod it. We rod it with that hose on the front of the truck there. We put a nozzle on and put a tiger tail on it and it pulls itself through with the flow of the water and then we suck it back up with the Vac-con."

So far this year, crews have cleaned over 90,000 storm drains in Houston. They've also handled almost 1700 calls to 3-1-1 from residents requesting maintenance on drains outside their homes. The Public Works Department's Alvin Wright says streets without water and debris also means better traffic flow.

"When the water is not high on the streets, what it does is it allows the traffic to use all of the lanes that are available. When water starts to back up, traffic tends to move to one lane or another causing a back-up. So we want to make sure that we do our part in assuring that the streets themselves are cleared of any debris in regards to allowing storm drains to do what they're supposed to do."

Wright says residents should not allow grass clippings to wash into storm drains. You can see pictures of the drain cleaning operation on our website,

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