SFPUC Strike Team Responds to Stormy Weather

Stormy conditions hit San Francisco this week and the SFPUC’s Strike Team deployed two nights in a row. In part two of this series , we look at how a Stormwatch activation deploys crews while most people are sleeping to comb the city for clogged catch basins.

Audie Ilejay holding up a pollution prevention sign.

“We were prepared for the worst, with more than one to two inches of rain predicted by the National Weather Service,” shared Audie Ilejay, Supervising Wastewater Control Inspector. “The crew was ready.”

Jose Lomas-Galves Jr. gearing up before working overnight in the rain.

“It was pretty cool but a little nerve-wracking,” explained Jose Lomas-Galves Jr., a Sewer Service Worker. “Every intersection we went to had some flooding, so we tried to relieve the catch basin as quickly as we could to protect the neighborhood waterways since we have a combined sewer system.”

Carina Gomez working overnight as part of the Strike Team.

“It was a long night and different this time around because of COVID-19,” said Carina Gomez, a Water Quality Technician. “We had to follow more protocols to keep each other safe. We drove in separate vehicles, [and] we were wearing all our rain gear and face masks.” Ms. Gomez thought ahead of time about what wearing a face mask in the rain would feel like and came prepared with extra masks.

Strike Team cleaning catch basins throughout San Francisco.

According to Mr. Lomas-Galves Jr., “The rain would come down pretty hard for 10 minutes then stop. Then start up again. During each pause, the same catch basin we just cleared would be pooling up again.”

Strike Team using a Vac-Con truck to unclog a drain.

Litter from the streets can cause problems with drainage and keeping the 23,000 catch basins throughout the city clear is no easy task. “Only rain belongs down the drain”, explains Mr. Lomas-Galvez Jr. He says keeping debris and litter off the streets makes stormwater flow a lot easier into catch basins. “First, we see if raking leaves and debris on top of the grate clears the plug. It looks like a vortex like flushing a toilet if it drains. If it doesn’t, we use a five-foot bar to try to loosen debris inside the catch basin. If that still doesn’t work, we go to the middle the intersection to flush the manhole. If that doesn’t do the trick, we call the Vac-con truck to suck up all the dirt and debris.”