August 21, 2019

Keeping Storm Drains Clear Is a Neighborhood Initiative

By Anne Levin

When violent storms rip leaves from the trees and wash away piles of brush awaiting pickup in the streets, storm drains get clogged. And that is a problem.

The backup causes flooding. It also results in unhealthy materials getting flushed into local waterways.

One local solution being put into action by Sustainable Princeton invites residents to “adopt” a drain, making sure leaves and brush are cleared after a storm. Part of Sustainable Princeton’s STAR (Sustainable Together and Resilient) Neighborhood program, the initiative is already in practice in the Walnut-Dempsey-Cuyler section of Princeton. The organization hopes other parts of town will also take the initiative.

“The whole concept is that we’re trying to empower community members to help make it more sustainable,” said Molly Jones, executive director of Sustainable Princeton. “Clearing drains is just one suggested action people can do. And how easy is that?”

During a big storm, leaves, grass, and other organic materials that are in the streets get swiftly carried into drains. The drains get clogged, keeping the water from flowing down. But once it does flow, the water can feed unhealthy algae blooms.

“The leaf breakdown, which has a lot of nitrogen, can create algae blooms in our waterways, which suffocates marine life,” said Jones. “That’s another negative. We just don’t want the leaves going into our waterways.”

When clearing drains, Sustainable Princeton recommends staying away from busy roads and focusing instead on lightly-traveled neighborhood streets. Having a partner who can keep watch on traffic is essential. And grates should never be removed. Only the surface of the storm drain should be cleared.

“Bring a rake, broom, and a bucket, and collect debris from the drain surface and surrounding pavement,” reads an information statement from Sustainable Princeton. “Gloves are a great idea since you may encounter litter or broken glass. Finally, the best way to dispose of this organic material is in your compost pile or a piece of your property far from the road.”

The STAR program, in which participating neighborhoods earn points for their activities, was only recently launched. In addition to the Walnut-Dempsey-Cuyler neighborhood, the “Grover gang” and Caldwell Park neighborhoods are also certified. The Constitution Hill section is in line to become the next certified neighborhood.

“It’s like a little certification program for the neighborhoods,” said Jones. “We’ve had seven different parts of town which have had gatherings to discuss STAR, and we have three up and certified. We’re trying to encourage people to create more.”