The city of Naperville, Ill., has been offering its citizens a chance to get down and dirty with its new “Adopt-A-Drain” program launched Oct. 1, 2018.
Since storm drain management has run into more than $1.1 million annually on maintenance, inspections and repairs on approximately 56,000 drains, the Naperville Board of Works came up with a resourceful volunteer program to keep the drains free of clogging from stormwater runoff and pollution. This entails a volunteer choosing a nearby drain — or drains — close to his/her home or work and committing to keep it clear of debris.
There is an interactive map on the city’s website from which a drain can be chosen from the roughly 14,000 available. The eligible drains are in areas where there is not too much traffic and where roadway shoulders are wider.
The program has already become popular with residents, and Dick Dublinski, director of public works, is elated with the program’s success.
“We are so fortunate that more than 200 residents have adopted over 300 drains during the program’s first month,” said Dubinski.
“In addition to preventing street flooding, the small gesture of voluntarily cleaning a neighborhood drain can greatly reduce pollution to our local waterways. We look forward to watching the positive impacts on our neighborhoods and the environment for years to come.”
Elizabeth Meil, communications specialist with the city of Naperville, shared the orientation process of volunteer drain cleaners.
“Upon registration, participants receive a welcome packet with information about the program and instructions about how to clean the drains, a quarterly newsletter and an alert via email before predicted storms reminding them to clean their drain,” said Meil, adding that many residents have commented that they’ve been cleaning the drains near their homes for years.
“The first 100 participants to sign up to adopt a drain and become a ‘Drain Defender’ received a free reflective vest, rake and gloves to perform cleaning duties.
These residents were highly encouraged to use the Adopt-A-Drain application (map) to submit a photo of their drain, report an issue with their drain and report the storm drain as having been cleaned. If they decide they no longer want to participate in the program, they may simply sign into the application and select ‘abandon drain.’”
Meil also pointed out that while drainage improvement plans were in place to make the city more flood resilient, with more than 56,000 storm sewers in Naperville, it is difficult for public works employees to clear all the clogged storm drains in a timely manner, especially when there are more imminent threats during a storm. Her office has seen, on average, about 10 drains adopted a week.
“We had our first rain event calling for at least 1 inch of rain accumulation for the overnight on Tuesday, Oct. 27,” said Meil.
“Our first rain alert email was sent on Monday, Oct. 26, around 6 p.m. Public works crews noted that they saw a significant difference in the amount of street flooding, but only 10 percent of program volunteers logged into the system to record that they had cleaned their drain. Because we are only one month (and one rain event) into the program, we’re still assessing how to get volunteers to track their cleaning efforts through the system to alert public works crews of which drains have been cleared.”
Materials needed are listed in the website: gloves for hand protection; rake or broom to clear the debris; yard waste bag to dispose of garbage; and a neon safety vest or reflective clothing for working on busier streets. As for waste disposal, plastic items can be recycled while grass and leaves are disposed of in a standard yard waste bag for collection. Everything else is disposed of in the regular trash.
During the summer of 2018, two high school interns were tasked with developing an Adopt-A-Drain program for the city that would encourage residents to assist the city by volunteering to clear their storm sewer inlets before and after a storm to reduce flooding and prevent debris from entering the storm sewers, said Meil.
“The interns worked together to develop the program and create educational information on the benefits of having residents participate in the program. In addition the interns collaborated with the communications staff to develop a marketing campaign that would entice residents to be a part of the program. At the end of their eight-week assignment, the interns presented their recommendations for what the program should be and also how to best market the program to Naperville residents.”
There is one caveat for residents who want to sign up, according to Meil.
“In online registering, once you click ‘adopt’, you will be prompted to accept or decline a liability waiver,” said Meil. “You must agree before completing the adoption process. If you choose to decline the agreement terms, you will not be able to continue and will not be able to participate in the program.”
After the participant signs in to the interactive map and enters an email address from which to receive login information, she/he will be asked for a team name — if you’re representing a group that will be working together, such as a neighborhood organization or Scouts — and a subdivision name — optional.
Here is where it gets fun: Residents can use their imaginations in naming their little adoptee as long as they’re respectful. Then they can welcome “Bob” or “Stormy D” — um, the “D” stands for “drain” — to their family circle and can proudly show off their selfies with their new drains.
The biggest challenge is keeping current participants engaged. Residents’ participation is vital to the success of the program, according to Dublinski.
“We encourage residents to clean their drains by educating them on the benefits of the program,” said Meil.
Some of these tactics have included:
• Providing knowledge about the benefits of regularly cleaning storm drains;
• Providing widespread facts that will encourage residents to participate;
• Providing facts about how well the program is doing so residents are excited to participate in a program that is making a difference.
Preparations include having the two high school interns mentioned earlier craft a program that was right for Naperville. GIS employees created the city’s first-ever interactive map that allows residents to directly engage with staff through a map. A team member from communications constructed a communications plan for program launch and tactics to increase community-wide knowledge of the program as well as increase and maintain participation.
“Multiple employees monitor the program and weather daily,” said Meil, who added that someone must be responsible for reviewing the weather to decide when a rain alert is necessary.
“Finally, our continuous engagement has kept current participants involved and we continue to see people having fun with the program, naming their drains and sending in photos. For these reasons, the number of adopted drains and participants continues to increase.”