When the leaves clog the storm-sewer drains and water starts to back up into the street, Benita Vonne Ortiz feels a call to action.
Armed with a rake and wearing rubber boots to keep her feet dry, the longtime Champaign resident cleans out the drains around her house and enjoys hearing and watching all the backed-up water disappear on its long journey to either the Mississippi or Wabash rivers.
“I love the sound of ‘shwoosh.’ I feel like I’m accomplishing something,” said Ortiz, who lives near Dr. Howard Elementary School.
Up to now, Ortiz’s long devotion to removing the leaves and keeping the streets free of backed-up rainwater has been strictly unofficial.
“I’ve been cleaning the drains on my street for about 28 years,” she said.
But no more. Owing to a new volunteer program adopted by the city of Champaign, Ortiz has officially adopted the storm drains near her house and been assigned the duties of keeping them free of debris and open to storm water that would otherwise flood her street.
The name of the plan is “Adopt a Drain.”
Ortiz said she “signed up immediately” after hearing about it from a city employee.
Ortiz is not the only one. So far, city officials report that “just short of 100 people” have volunteered.
But storm drain enthusiasts need not worry. With 12,000 storm drains in Champaign, there are a lot more drains looking for loving homes.
Modeling its program after a similar volunteer effort in Naperville, city officials contend Champaign is “the first municipality in central Illinois to offer an Adopt A Drain program to its residents.”
It grew out of a suggestion by a local resident, Eliana Brown,to Champaign Mayor Deb Fei-nen.
Brown, who lives on Charles Street near the campus, said a neighbor made a habit of cleaning out the drains in her neighborhood.
“She was doing it and then she moved. I quickly realized I needed to start,” said Brown, who pos ted picture of her efforts on Facebook.
A Facebook friend of Brown’s told her about Naperville’s program, and Brown passed the information on to the mayor, who passed it on to the public works department.
Employees there worked out the details and forwarded them to the city council earlier this year for approval.
What do the volunteers get out of this other than the peculiar satisfaction of watching storm water disappear down the drain?
They get to name their storm drains, an option veteran drain cleaner Joe Lamberson said he found “kind of appealing.”
Looking for pun possibilities, Lamberson said he named his the “cityofchampdrain,” while his wife, Jenny, inspired by the late musician Prince, named hers “Purpledrain.”
Hey, it’s a drain thing.
The benefit to the city is obvious.
Public works department spokesman Kris Koester said the city devotes considerable time, energy and manpower to keeping the streets clean and the storm drains clear.
“With 12,000 of them, we don’t get to all of them before the flooding can start,” he said.
Now volunteers will make that challenge more manageable. Or as city bureaucrats put it, “An Adopt A Drain program would give the city the opportunity to partner with residents to lessen these obstructions and to keep the storm water drainage system functioning properly while minimizing the entry of contaminants.”
That kind of rhetoric almost drains the fun out of it.
Under city rules, volunteers are asked “to clear” a drain and “10 feet on each side of the drain of litter, grass, leaves, etc., approximately four times a year and before forecasted heavy rain events.”
“Volunteers would receive an informational email with instructions for cleaning the drain, recommended cleaning periods, safety tips, etc. Adopters would have the ability to release a drain if they no longer wished to participate in the program,” city officials say.
The city even has its own “Adopt a Drain” web page on its city website and advises that “staff would review drain names to ensure names are appropriate and respectful.”