Getting San Francisco Rain Ready: A Community Effort

At almost every intersection in the City, over 25,000 catch basins help to capture stormwater when it rains. This stormwater runoff then goes into the same pipes that connect to household and business drains. This “combined sewer system” is what helps manage stormwater and protect public health and the environment and reduce the risk of flooding. After decades of paving over the City, including what used to be creeks, marshes, and even parts of the Bay, storms create millions of gallons of stormwater runoff that needs somewhere to go.

In addition to catch basins across the City, the SFPUC is building rain gardens and other “green infrastructure” that help to capture and absorb stormwater naturally. These efforts are part of the City’s initiative to manage 1 billion gallons of stormwater through green infrastructure by 2050. Keeping all these catch basins and rain gardens clear of debris so they can do their job isn’t an easy job.

Sewer Operations crew cleaning sewer drains on Sunset Blvd. Curb drains . Vactor truck

SFPUC crews prepare all year for rainy weather by deep cleaning catch basins and partnering with other City departments to trim trees and clean the streets of debris that could block or clog these important inlets. SFPUC crews also make quarterly maintenance visits to ensure rain garden functionality by weeding and replacing damaged plants and soil. But when heavy storms arrive and gusty winds drop the autumn leaves, or trash is blown around, catch basins and rain gardens can quickly become clogged. In an effort to foster a more resilient and responsive approach to managing stormwater, and knowing the agency can’t build a sewer system to handle the largest or most intense storms, the SFPUC works with residents to create a partnership that encourages neighbors to Adopt-A-Drain or become a Rain Guardian.

Not surprisingly, residents and businesses eagerly stepped up to take an active role in caring for and improving the neighborhood where they live and work. The SFPUC’s Rain Guardians program currently has 41 rain gardens adopted, and its Adopt a Drain program has over 3,200 drains adopted.

No one is too young to become an environmental steward.
New adopters of rain gardens or catch basins are invited to free tool giveaways.

To ensure these volunteers are adequately equipped, the SFPUC hosts tool giveaways where staff provide trash pickers, safety vests, rakes, brooms, and gloves to program participants. With the help of residents and businesses, work orders for street flooding issues are down 36 percent below anticipated levels. As the SFPUC continues to upgrade and protect the sewer system during both dry and wet weather, the support and hard work from the environmental stewards that have adopted a piece of city infrastructure continues to be critical. Residents and businesses can adopt one of the several thousand drains in the city and give it a fun name, or adopt one of the few remaining rain gardens at one of the SFPUC’s green infrastructure projects.

Safety first. If you encounter something harmful or dangerous while cleaning, report these items to 311.
Always wear highly visible clothing when out clearing your catch basin or rain garden!