Urban flooding new concern as snow melts

TACOMA, Wash. -- As a week's worth of snow turns to slush, the City of Tacoma is preparing for possible urban flooding by sucking up snow with sewer maintenance trucks. Crews are clearing paths for melting snow to run off into storm drains.

"If we can keep it off the streets and into these drains, it’s less likely to end up in somebody’s yard or causing damage or accidents," said Jimmy Strivens, a sewer equipment operator for the city.

Overnight, the weather turning from snow to rain caused major flooding concerns.

"When it started melting, everything really picked up," Strivens said. "We had crews out all night last night and all through today and I believe we're going to be doing the same thing all night tonight until this concern with flooding lets up."

When we spoke to Strivens Tuesday afternoon, he had already been working nearly 12 hours that day, clearing paths for water to reach the drains. He said the snow that is sucked up by the truck will go to the city's water treatment facility.

"We’d like to be able to take more snow out but there’s so many to do, we can’t just clean up all of this," he said. "We just give it an opportunity to get to the storm drain and get to the next one."

But they can’t get to them all, which is why the city is calling on residents to do their part.

"If it’s safe to do so, if they can get out with a shovel and uncover these drains, it’s really helpful for us," Strivens said.

Just a few blocks down, Tacoma resident Bob Lee got the message. We found him shoveling the street near his house, searching for a sewer grate underneath piles of snow. He said his wife saw a post from the city on the internet asking residents to  pitch in to clear drains, so he went outside to try to help.

"If everyone would take care of their own intersection, then you won’t have big build up of water," Lee said. "But I might be drilling a dry hole here because I don't think there's one over here."

In the end, Lee couldn't find a grate under the snow on that corner. Across the street, a separate storm drain was already clear of snow and doing its job. Shovel in hand, he heads home, knowing that he did his part.

If you experience flooding in your neighborhood or need help from your city to clear drains, you can dial 311 for city services. If you want to reach the City of Tacoma's direct line for sewer backups or flooding, dial (253) 591-5585.