Proper Storm Drain and Catch Basin Cleaning

Proper Storm Drain and Catch Basin Cleaning

Storm drain and catch basin cleaning are critical components to keeping local waterways clear and in many areas regulated with defined performance measures. (Photo by Bill Wechter)

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Storm drain and catch basin cleaning are critical components to keeping local waterways clear and in many areas regulated with defined performance measures. Best management practices should be incorporated into standard operating procedures to ensure performance objectives are met and to ensure the safety of the work crew performing the cleaning and the general public. 

It is important to know the purpose of the cleaning, which is typically one of the following:

1. Emergency – The requirement is to remove or relieve a blockage to prevent stormwater overflow, backup, noncompliance and property damage.

2. Routine maintenance  – The requirement is to maintain the hydraulic handling capacity of the storm sewer system, as well as prevent point source pollution from entering a waterway.

3. New construction – The purpose of cleaning new construction storm drainage systems is to remove any sediment or debris that mats have accumulated in a new system during the construction process. 

Once crews determine the reason for cleaning, it’s important to establish written standard operating procedures. A step-by-step procedure should be clear so both supervisors and operations crews can understand and follow it:

1. Operator and/or helper will set up traffic control devices per Manual on Traffic Control Devices or local standards.

2. Site safety review with work team and review system mapping when available.

3. Operator will pull up to catch basin or structure and center vacuum hose over opening.

4. Remove cover to catch basin. In many cases covers may be lodged or simply too heavy to lift with standard equipment. These should be reported to the collections system supervisor and an alternative presented.

5. Cleaning will begin according to specification. It is beneficial to vacuum and remove debris without excessive use of washdown water as it will fill the debris storage body faster, however, in many cases debris must be broken up using a high-pressure wash gun. Circumstances that may prevent cleaning operations include structural damage; remote off-road access; oil, sewage or other hazardous materials present; and heavy flow due to stormwater runoff.

6. It is recommended to begin at the upstream end of a system to allow for downstream decanting of liquids. In many areas if a system discharges to a waterway decanting back into the system is not allowed, an area to discharge water should be identified with the collections system supervisor prior to the start of a job.

7. Replace cover to basin, making sure it fits properly and is in good condition (report any defects immediately to the collection systems supervisor). In many cases the catch basin is marked with a paint mark or hash to indicate it has been cleaned. 

Like any service performed in the public eye, you represent not only yourself but your company or municipality and the entire industry. Take pride in your work and treat the general public as if they are your end customers — which they are. 

About the author: Matt Timberlake is vice president of Ted Berry Company, Inc., a municipal and industrial services and trenchless technologies company located in Livermore, Maine. Contact him at or visit


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