By Joel Hall
According to Clayton County Water Authority officials, 2009 was one of the wettest years on record for metro Atlanta. The heavy rains, according to officials, have washed leaves, trash, and other litter into the county's stormwater system, creating flood hazards in several areas of the county.
The water authority is asking for residents to help keep leaves and garbage out of the county's stormwater catch basins.
Clayton County Water Authority Stormwater Manager Kevin Osbey said maintenance crews are being sent out on a daily basis to clear storm drains and catch basins throughout the county. He said that lately, the water authority has been responding to increased reports of flooding caused by leaves and other street litter clogging local catch basins.
"You tend to have residents who like to rake leaves off their yard and then rake the leaves off onto the roadside or dump them into a catch basin," Osbey said. "Sometimes people dump trash on the street and that gets caught in there too. For the Atlanta area [in] 2009, we received almost 69-and-a-half inches [of rain] for the year. That was second to 1948, where we had 71-and-a-quarter inches. When you have all the rain coming in that we've been having, the drains tend to get clogged. The water has nowhere to go until we send a vacuum truck out there."
Osbey said the county has also encountered problems with drainage ditches clogging with dirt or large garbage items. As a result of rains, water authority crews have removed items as large as used tires and furniture pieces from the county's stormwater drainage pipes.
"That's not what the ditches are for," Osbey said. "The ditches are just to convey water. The rain that would normally come off the road, it has nowhere to go ... it backs up and creates areas of ponding on the street."
Marcus McLester, supervisor of the Clayton County Water Authority stormwater maintenance division, said catch basin clogging over the past weekend caused flooding that led to street closures on Hidden Hollow Trail in Jonesboro and Shangrila Way in Riverdale. He said the flooding sometimes causes property damage, which can be avoided by proper waste disposal.
"When people don't clean the gutters in front of their house, all those leaves and pine straw just go out into the catch basins," McLester said. "Some people will blow leaves and grass clippings into the street, which eventually makes its way to the catch basins. We try to do preventive maintenance ... but when it's raining, we have more of these problems with flooding. If they can be aware and talk to their neighbors about keeping the area clean, it will cause them less headaches."
Clayton County Water Authority Public Information Officer Suzanne Brown said with the heavy rains, the water authority has been increasing its education efforts about the stormwater system. She said many people are under the false impression that stormwater drains connect to the county sewer system when, in fact, stormwater drains flow directly into local creeks, streams, and reservoirs.
"A lot of people are under the misconception that anything that goes down the storm drains are treated, and that is not the case," Brown said. "It's totally separate from sewer lines, which take people's waste from homes and businesses. Anything that goes into the catch basin is going to go into a local stream or creek, and eventually into the reservoirs. The more stuff that goes into the reservoirs, the more we have to spend to clean it up and make it into drinking water.
"When I was growing up, what I now know is a catch basin, we called it a sewer," she added. "It's important that we educate our customers on the difference. When it rains, all that stuff on the street goes into the catch basins."