When San Diego City crews needed a crane to hoist out some tree trimming debris from inside a Mission Hills storm drain recently, it showed the kind of obstacles waiting to clog up the bowels of a storm water system stretching from Tijuana to the San Pasquale Valley.
The job is big every year, but in the months leading up to what some believe could be Southern California’s wettest winter in nearly two decades, the clock is ticking to clear the way for an expected El Niño.
Among the things crew have found: "Bicycle parts, construction debris, 2-by-4s cut off," said Gene Matter of the Stormwater Division of Operations. "We've even seen a mannequin one time."
The City of San Diego has more than 75,000 storm drain structures and nearly 900 miles of drainage pipe to maintain.
The system of storm drains is designed to handle normal water flow, but occasionally during heavy rain, flooding will occur, city officials said.
This was certainly the case during the winter of 1997 and 1998, the last time San Diego saw significant El Niño conditions.
NBC 7 asked the City’s Storm Water Department to give us an overview of their preparations:
Crews are upgrading motors in storm water pump stations and changing draining paths on trouble spots like the Torrance Street cul-de-sac.
There is also a scheduled maintenance for the storm water channels in the Tijuana River Valley and Alvarado Creek.
When the storm strikes, the city plans earlier staging of “storm patrol” teams and equipment including temporary pumps. They're also training more staffers to add to the personnel available for tree clearing in a big storm.
"The City has a large pothole patching crew, so we're going to use some of those resources during a storm to patrol some areas to try to prevent flooding," Matter said.
The City's Transportation & Storm Water Department also plans to be in closer communication with the National Weather Service in the event of a storm to help dispatch services quickly.