Public Lab Research note

Catch Basins 101: How to clean a catch basin with one person in 68 minutes.

by dmunchak | September 02, 2017 21:32 02 Sep 21:32 | #14822 | #14822

It's not rocket science. Next time you take a shower look down at the drain. Marvel at how the water runs down the hole. Then, block the drain with something and watch it backup. Remove the blockage and the water flows again. It's truly magical.

This is the catch basin located at the corner of Sixth and Carondelet Streets in New Orleans during heavy rains on the morning of August 6th, 2017.

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I have heard for years from my neighbors that they have called they city to complain about it not draining. Allegedly city employees have shown up and said there is nothing that can be done to fix the problem.

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I am fairly certain I can prove otherwise.
Tools required:

  • 5 gallon bucket
  • 1 pointed shovel
  • 1 crowbar

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For various legal reasons, I won't say lift the lid.

Notice that this basin is impacted with a large amount of debris (plastic bottles, soda and beer cans, hot chip bags, dirt, leaves, roots, and worms, lots of worms)

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Start shoveling. Remove all the impacted material and root systems and place them somewhere that they cannot wash back into the basin. Put trash in its place, and if you can recycle the plastic bottles and compost the leaves.

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One heck of a root system. Took about 10 passes with a handsaw to dislodge it and remove it. I didn't have a saw on my original materials list and had to walk a block to get one. Had I been better prepared, I could have done this in under an hour.
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Massive root system was holding on to a ton of dirt and preventing water from easily flowing. There are around 65,000 catch basins in the city of New Orleans. If I removed 75 gallons of debris from this one, and this issue is not unique. Feel free to check my math, but that's 4,875,000 gallons of water that sit on city streets following heavy rains.

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I used the crowbar to dislodge all of the impacted mud and roots from the grates at street level. The outlet drain is just now coming into view in the photo below.

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Root system that has infiltrated the inflow pipe. This requires professional drain cleaning equipment (a rooter, or sewer cable). This basin will fully function to drain the street, it just will not effectively drain the property behind it unless this root system is removed. image description

Just keep shoveling and removing dirt and debris until the drain pipe is completely exposed.

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Roughly 60 minutes later, this one is done. Two finished product photos below. image description

I made a few passes with a rake to remove all of the dirt and leaves at street level.image description

Cover replaced. Amazingly, it looks about the same as when I started, because all the issues were below the surface. Maybe that's part of the problem. Out of sight out of mind.

Please stop littering. Roughly half of what I shoveled out was man made and could have easily found its way into a trash can and not into the basin.image description

I was not able to post my "It's Raining, She's Draining" video here, but take my word for it. It works. However, on-going maintenance is key. This cannot be a one shot deal, as it will clog again. Citizens can be engaged in this process, but the City of New Orleans must also do its part.


The best advice I can offer is:

1. Catch debris before the basins do!

2. Don't litter!

3. Help your friends and neighbors catch theirs.**

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Admirable work! I hope you enjoyed a cool beverage after this. Perhaps this documentation can be used to show the City what proper maintenance looks like.

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excellent! thanks for this. @Stevie

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I've lifted lids before. In that case, which happened in a world without lawyers, I used

gloves a flatbar and a crowbar (or a "prop" wrench, hammer, etc,something to work with the flatbar) a friend with gloves

I used the flatbar to pry the lid up from the middle side (some of them have slots) the wrench to prop it up above finger height

one person to bravely place fingers in and lift slightly second person to place fingers in and take the weight first person is now a spotter second or third or a few persons lifts from the knees to get lid to 90 degree position, balanced.

many gloved hands to lift safely to the open position drop heavy heavy iron cover onto the grass while all persons step back to avoid foot injury

of course, this never happened.

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let's all go out and keep this concrete lilypad afloat!

in regards to keeping these clean, residents are liable for sweeping in FRONT of the catch basin. perhaps these steps can be avoided if a finer grate is placed in front of the basin;

a grate that can be removed before a deluge...but would make the residents' duty of cleaning in front of the basin (not the basin itself, which is DPW / Dept of Public Works)

make that residents' duty much more effective, since the existing 8" holes let in everything.

This is similar to the SmartVents for under your house, the ones that float open during a flood event.

This idea brought to you by this one guy i talked to at the Blue House fika from a month ago

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wow, great post! thanks for sharing. The step by step photos are really helpful.

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Tremendous, thank you!

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Hi, @dmunchak - I wanted to suggest changing the title to Catch Basins 101: How to clean a catch basin with one person in 68 minutes as it'll show up around the site by that name. Happy to make the edit for you if you like!

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@warren Thanks for your feedback. I have updated my post.

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Hey y'all! This is an excellent overview that I so thankfully stumbled upon while making a survey to send to community groups / city agencies regarding the efficacy of the Adopt-A-Catch Basin program for my other job at UNO. @dmunchak, is it okay if I use your photos as a header for this survey?

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@a1ahna Hi there! Yes, you have my permission to use my photos. Good Luck with your survey! Would love to see the results when you are finished.

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