San Francisco, CA—Since the launch of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s popular Adopt a Drain SF program, work orders for street flooding issues are down 36 percent below anticipated levels, illustrating the effectiveness of the resident initiative.
Adopt a Drain SF allows San Franciscans to “adopt” one of the City’s 25,000 drains (also known as catch-basins) with the pledge that they will clean and maintain the fixtures to reduce the risk of flooding. The initiative, which began in Fall 2016, raises awareness about the importance of keeping catch basins clear of leaves and debris to allow stormwater to flow easily into San Francisco’s combined sewer system. Since the launch of the program, more than 2,900 drains have been adopted by more than 1,800 residents.
“When residents take responsibility for a drain in their neighborhood through the Adopt a Drain program, it not only benefits their neighborhood during storms, it also frees up City resources to respond to flooded areas elsewhere,” said Mayor London N. Breed. “This small act of civic engagement goes a long way towards making San Francisco a more resilient, prepared city.”
During a two-year period from September 2014 to September 2016 that preceded the launch of the Adopt a Drain SF program, 311 received 2,970 service requests for street flooding issues. From September 2016 to September 2018, which coincided with the debut of the program, San Francisco experienced 20 percent more rainfall and 311 calls increased by 40 percent across the City. Based on those increases, 311 should have projected to receive 4,990 service requests related to flooding on streets. However, during that two-year period, the agency received just 3,179 service requests—36 percent below the anticipated total.
“Our Adopt a Drain volunteers represent a diverse array of neighborhoods and communities from across the City, and they all share the same commitment to civic pride,” said SFPUC General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr. “We are incredibly grateful for their efforts to make sure that San Francisco is prepared and resilient in the event of flooding and major storm events.”
“The Adopt a Drain program is a wonderful example of how volunteers can make a big difference in the care of San Francisco,” said Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. “While City crews continue to clear leaves and litter from the storm drains, we cannot do the work alone. Partnering with volunteers truly benefits our neighborhoods and reduces the likelihood of localized flooding.”
Real Life Impacts of Adopt a Drain SF:
In November 2018, the SFPUC created a new “Drains in Need” feature—a data-driven effort to identify the City’s catch-basins most in need of maintenance and cleaning. Using information and feedback collected from 311, San Francisco Public Works, Data SF, Code for SF and agency engineers, the SFPUC identified approximately 2,000 of the most-clogged drains in San Francisco. The Drains in Need—identified with an icon that has an exclamation point inside a red pin—can be found here.
The Adopt a Drain SF program is one facet of the SFPUC’s comprehensive approach to planning and preparing for extreme weather and flooding. Last November, the SFPUC Commission approved new flood maps that will provide existing and prospective homeowners with important information on low-lying areas in the City that are prone to flooding. The 100-year flood map ordinance, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors this month, will require homeowners in those flood map zones to disclose that information to potential buyers or tenants. The maps are consumer-protection tools for prospective homeowners and important informational blueprints for existing homeowners.
In addition, the agency has identified neighborhoods with the greatest flood risk and prioritized projects in those areas, including a proposed $700 million worth of upgrades. All proposed capital improvements will be prioritized along with other investments in the City’s sewer system, including addressing seismic reliability and aging infrastructure.
Throughout the year, the SFPUC works with San Francisco Public Works to clean pipes and clear storm drains, and before and after major weather events, the agency increases staffing and prioritizes locations in low-lying neighborhoods to respond to relevant 311 service requests. The SFPUC proactively installs temporary flood barriers at the intersection of 17th and Folsom streets to help minimize floodwater intrusion in that low-lying neighborhood.
The agency manages a Floodwater Grant Program that reimburses improvements made by property owners to help protect against flooding up to $100,000 and also partners with San Francisco Public Works to hand out free sandbags to residents.
About the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a department of the City and County of San Francisco. It delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, collects and treats wastewater for the City and County of San Francisco, and generates clean power for municipal buildings, residents, and businesses. The SFPUC’s mission is to provide customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that values environmental and community interests and sustains the resources entrusted to our care. Learn more at www.sfwater.org.