When flooding or ponding starts, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) field workers have little time to do more than respond to calls.

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Seattle has about 80,000 storm drains and at this time of year any of them could look like what Joe Pescatore, a drainage and wastewater collection worker for Seattle Public Utilities, was examining.

The grate, on a Madison Park residential street, was smeared and clogged by a soggy paste of wet leaves, sending runoff crawling down 28th Avenue East.

When flooding or ponding starts, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) field workers have little time to do more than respond to calls.

About 10 days ago, when two days of heavy rain hit, they responded to about 235 customer calls.

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Before storm season, though, the work focuses on maintenance, trying to head off trouble by keeping the storm drains free and flowing.

And that is why they ask residents for help, from reporting potential trouble spots to raking leaves to monitoring and tending their neighborhood drain in an “adopt-a-drain” program.

Under “adopt a drain,” the city provides free leaf pickup for volunteers and all of the materials needed for cleaning drains, and collects the leaves. (The city of Bothell is offering a similar program for the first time).

Seattle has steadily been paved over the years, making storm drains more critical than ever.

It also is a city of leaves, which helps makes this time of year volatile.

“A friend of mine visited and said, ‘Seattle is so pretty; it has so many trees,’ ” says Sarah Miller, SPU drainage and wastewater operations director. “I said, ‘yeah, it’s got roots and leaves — both not friends in the drainage and wastewater world.’ “

The Madison Park drain was so clogged that the high-pressure nozzle Pescatore eventually shoved into the grate did little good. He then applied an auger, twisted, and yanked out two football-sized clumps of roots, leaves and branches. He pushed the rest of collected debris inside to a catch basin down the street, where another crew later removed it.

SPU has 90 crew workers and more than 60 vehicles dedicated to drainage and wastewater maintenance and storm response. Crews relieve sewer backups, clear inlets, jet-drainage lines and pump-catch basins and investigate lines using closed-circuit TV.

Crews inspect storm drains throughout the year, especially those in flood-prone areas, and try to time the work to just before seasonal storms typically hit. SPU also coordinates with the Seattle Department of Transportation to ensure “leaf routes” are swept throughout the fall.

It is more than about flooding. Properly flowing drains prevent pollutants from being diverted to streams, creeks and Puget Sound.

And residents should also keep their eyes on construction sites near their homes.

Builders are required to cover storm drains with a “silt sock, ” a geotextile fabric that blocks debris from entering drains. Sometimes the companies leave the “socks” or fail to maintain them. When that happens, the socks can become dams and contribute to flooding.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development has sent out letters to contractors reminding them of the regulations regarding the socks. Those include inspecting, cleaning, replacing and removing the inserts.

Miller suggests residents call SPU’s 24-hour Operations Response Center if they see a problem.

Other suggestions:

• Avoid high water and low-lying areas during heavy rain. If your basement is prone to flooding, stay out of it until the flood risk passes.

• Maintain gutters and downspouts. Direct flows from downspouts away from your home, but without discharging flows to adjacent properties.

• Maintain drainage systems. Don’t put grass clippings, leaves or other debris into the drains, ditches, creeks, culverts, gutters or ravines. If you live at the base of a hill or on a cliff, check drainage and retaining walls.

• Assess your yard. The area within 10 feet of your home should slope away from your house. Call a tree trimmer to inspect your trees and identify any hidden diseases or weak branches that could fall in high winds.

• Inspect your roof for leaks or damage to gutters.

• Know how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves.

• Keep your distance from downed power lines. Report them at 206-684-3000.

Richard Seven: 206-464-2241 or rseven@seattletimes.com

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