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Help reduce urban flooding by unplugging blocked storm drains

It’s raining, it’s pouring! So much rain is coming down in 2021 so far that we’re already breaking records in Grays Harbor for rainfall for the month! And, despite huge advances in both flood control projects in Aberdeen and Hoquiam, urban flooding will always be a concern in this climate, especially when coupled with high tides.

Did you know that tides are always highest in June and July and again in December and January? Of course those summer high tides don’t typically cause flooding concerns. It’s those high tides in December and January, coupled with saturated ground and unending precipitation that can cause flooding -- and even devastating landslides.

Good news, Bad news

As we mentioned, the good news is that our cities have done a lot over the years to prevent flooding in various areas. A visit to the museum, or even, for some, a trip down Memory Lane, can provide images of children walking to school with water wafting over their galoshes or great berms of sandbags attempting to save businesses from the deluge.

While the good news is that we’ve made a lot of progress in our county to cope with urban flooding, the bad news is that in our climate we will always be prone to it. But that doesn’t mean we’re helpless!

Little actions make a difference!

When it rains two inches a day for four days straight, not only does the drainage system get overwhelmed, so do the public works departments at our cities – particularly in Aberdeen and Hoquiam where the flooding is the worst and most affected by the tides.

That’s where taking charge and being neighborly can make a significant difference in your community. If you are seeing huge puddles due to a blocked storm drain in front of your house or on your street, grab a rake and a plastic garbage bag and put on those galoshes. In just five to 10 minutes, you can help yourself, your neighbors and your city by getting the gunk away from the grate and letting that water flow.

“We’ve got somewhere around 3,000 catch basins,” said Josh Ambrose of Hoquiam’s Public Works Department. “During heavy rains, we can’t possibly keep up with keeping all of them clear.”

Like the folks in the Aberdeen Public Works Department, Ambrose said in Hoquiam they appreciate citizens pitching in to keep those grates free.

It’s not just leaves that block the storm drains, but also it’s often plastic litter or garbage that has come from an overflowing can or been brought in by a scavenging bird.

So, in addition to being alert to blocked drains, remember to keep your garbage can lids fully down when set out on the curb for pickup.

While most drains can be quickly unplugged by a shovel or rake, sometimes the problem is a broken pump or a backup further down the line. For those, call your city’s public works department and leave the address of the storm drain with an issue.

In Aberdeen that number is (360) 533-5817. In Hoquiam, call the city’s main number at (360) 532-5700, and ask for the Public Works Department.

Be prepared!

Like so many areas of life, planning ahead and being prepared for the consequences of rain and flooding cannot only help as the flood waters rise, but also give a sense of relief and calm, just knowing you have a plan and the tools needed to implement it.

One thing that can coincide with flooding is that the power can also go out. So, keep that in mind as you consider what you may need in case of an emergency.

Two great places to look for information about emergency preparation are the Grays Harbor PUD's website at and the Grays Harbor County Emergency Management's website ( /departments/emergency management).

Here are some highlights of what you should do to be prepared.

  • Put together at least one “Go Bag” – it could be a backpack, a plastic tote or a handled cloth bag. Store it in your home, or consider storing it in your car so that you have it wherever you are. Those websites have great lists from flashlights, lighters and bandages to duct tape, rope, tarp and a change of clothes.

  • Include canned protein such as tuna, spam, peanut butter and beef jerky as well as other food such as trail mix or granola bars.

  • Don’t forget drinking water. Have plenty on hand for you, your family and pets.

  • Get some cash to have on hand. Often when the power goes out stores and gas stations don’t have the ability to process credit cards. Make sure to have the money in smaller denominations – like $10s and $20s.

  • Consider keeping 10 gallons of gas around, safely stored. Cycle it through your lawn mower or car once a month so the supply stays fresh. Then you’ll have the gas needed for a generator – or even your car.

  • Make a habit of keeping your gas tank at least half full. When power goes out throughout a community that means pumping gas isn’t possible, so it’s good to be prepared.

  • Think ahead and make sure you have plenty of prescription medication on hand.

  • Don’t forget your pets – build up their larder – and any other things they might need, medicine, litter, etc.

  • Check your “To Go” bag and “larder” at least every six months so you can cycle through the food and water, and replace or return anything (matches, batteries, a blanket) that you may have used.


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