The storm drain at the end of our street needs to have its catch basin mucked out. My son pointed out the smell weeks ago, and I agree—something’s not right.

The smell is overpowering, and we had to hold our breath to take this photo. There is a small restaurant on the corner which suffers from being directly downwind. The husband and wife who run the place are always kind to us. No doubt their business is being driven away. [Update: new ownership as of 2010]

Let’s see if we can get this fixed.


[2008.09.23] We went in for a closer look and took a photo through the grating. The blur in the image is caused by steam that is emitting from somewhere in the drain. There is an oil-slicked, debris-filled pool of fetid water at the bottom of the catch basin.

We did a little background research. (Here’s a great book: The Works: Anatomy of a City by Kate Ascher, and here’s the entry for “storm drain” on wikipedia.) Based on what we learned, we offer this speculative drawing of the situation underground. It seems that the answer is to request that the basin be cleared out.

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) has a “citywide catch basin preventative maintenance program” which they describe here. They state: “[t]he Commission cleans catch basins throughout the city, scheduling the work based upon sediment accumulation rates, identified areas prone to flooding and customer complaints.”

We called BWSC (contact list) There was one quick transfer from the switchboard to a person who took down our first name, phone number, and the location of the drain. She said that a “call would be put in today.”

[2:30AM] Strangely, we got a call in the middle of the night from the BWSC (according to caller ID). We didn’t reach the phone in time, and they left no message.

[2008.09.23 6:30AM] The sidewalk near another drain on the street is stained with black residue, suggesting work was done overnight. But the drain that concerned us seems untouched. And the smell remains.

[2008.10.06] We called BWSC again. A staff person in “Operations” pulled up our street on her map. She said that our drain had been cleaned on Sep 23, and she put in a new request to clean drains further up the street and also to re-check our drain. She explained that the first step is to remove debris with a clamshell bucket and add disinfectant. If this doesn’t solve the problem, more extensive maintenance may be needed.

[2008.10.07] Several BWSC trucks came last night, and the smell is generally better this morning. We were very impressed by the response time.

I happened to be awake, and I took the photos below. A BWSC worker later told us that the white truck is a clamshell bucket truck, and the blue is a “Freightliner water jet/disinfectant” truck which is used to “flush out” drains.

[2008.11.14] We have to hand it to BWSC, they have been on our block for the past three days straight. Today, we met the Vactor 2100 Series PD, a positive displacement sewer cleaning machine. This monster truck pulls water from a fire hydrant, shoots it through the sewer system along the street, and then sucks out the dislodged debris. This is our kind of truck.

[2008.12.05] The Vactor 2100 returned again today and worked for a few hours at the end of the street. We’re into winter now, so its difficult to say for sure, but the odor seems to be gone from the storm drain. Case closed.