Storm drainYou can adopt a puppy from the pound, or even a soldier fighting in Iraq to whom you can send a care package. And in Seattle, you can adopt a storm drain. That’s right, you can lay claim to your very own portal to the gutter. The city is so understaffed and over-storm drained that it’s asking residents to adopt a drain and remove the leaves and debris that clog it. In return, participants get “free gloves, bags, brooms, rakes and safety vests.”

It’s probably not such a bad strategy considering what the city is up against. The system built to carry Seattle’s rainwater off parking lots and away from homes and businesses is massive: 80,000 storm drains, 40,000 catch basins, and 460 miles of storm drain pipes.

Even smaller Northwest cities are burdened with elaborate stormwater systems. Corvallis, Ore., for example, has 168 miles of stormwater pipes, 8,000 catch basins, and 2,700 manholes.

But all that infrastructure still isn’t always enough to do the job.

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  • On Monday, a dozen of homeowners in Seattle’s Madison Valley sued the city for failing to handle the stormwater and raw sewage that repeatedly have flooded their homes. Geysers of sewage and water gushed from the drains and toilets of one of the plaintiffs, according to a report from KOMO TV and the Seattle P-I. “I’m still having nightmares and flashbacks,” said Grace Stewart in the article.

    The same day the suit was filed, 9 million gallons of stormwater and untreated sewage poured into Puget Sound when a sensor malfunctioned at the West Point Treatment Plant in Magnolia. The sensor opened a bypass system that’s designed to prevent extremely heavy rains from flooding the King County plant. To be clear: the plant is supposed to let raw sewage go into the Sound during emergencies, though this particular occasion was an accident.

    Just such an emergency struck earlier this week in Coquille, in southwest Oregon. There a combined sewer-stormwater system was overwhelmed by downpours. For at least two days, raw sewage and runoff was dumped into the Coquille River, according to a report in the Coos Bay World.

    And the kicker is that numerous Northwest cities, including Seattle, are on the vanguard for innovative stormwater solutions. More than many other places, cities here are rejecting storm drains, gutters, and combined sewer systems and their overflows. The experts know that this sort of stormwater infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain, and ineffective. The answer is low-impact development, which sets as its ultimate goal the elimination of stormwater.

    How does low-impact development work? Can we afford it? Stay tuned for the next installment of the stormwater sagas.

    This post is part of a series on stormwater. Please also see “Smart, Cheap Stormwater Fixes,” “Water Pollution Enemy is Us,” and “Jesus Walking Salmon and Stormwater.”

    Storm Drain photo courtesy of Flickr user PetroleumJelliffe under a Creative Commons license.