The joy of unclogging storm drains

Adopting a drain is an easy way to reduce water pollution and make a difference.


I have some big news to announce. We have a new addition to our family. His name is Harold Green, and he is a storm drain at the southwest corner of 27th Street and Dupont Avenue South in Minneapolis. We adopted our drain on Feb. 26 and couldn't be happier.

The journey began with a Sunday morning email from a neighbor in a neighborhood block club.

The forecast calls for rain tomorrow which, with the recent snow blocking the storm drains, means the roads will be giant puddles. If you are able/willing to shovel out the storm drain in front of your house (or your neighbor's house), it will benefit us all. If you're not sure where the nearest storm drain is:

Adoption is a big responsibility. We don't take it lightly. So we did our due diligence.

Did you know Minnesota is one of six states in the United States that participates in the Adopt-a-Drain program (the others are Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Louisiana and Washington)? The program started in St. Paul in 2014 and today is the biggest adopt-a-drain effort in the country with over 10,700 adopters across Minnesota. They have adopted over 19,500 drains and collected over 565,000 pounds of debris. In Minneapolis alone, volunteers care for 6,000 of the adopted drains. The city is responsible for another 40,000.

Storm drains flow directly into our local lakes, rivers and wetlands, and act as a channel for trash and organic pollutants. With the Adopt-a-Drain program, residents can adopt a storm drain, and keep it clear of trash, leaves, and other debris to prevent water pollution.

In the winter, the debris collection process includes snow and ice. When it rains and snow melts, that water needs to go down the drain. When storm drains are clogged, the Land of 10,000 Lakes adds a few more lakes across the city. These lakes can create a big mess on streets and cause flooding. That's why it's important to keep the drains clear.

We were sold. The map showed a drain was available on our block. We signed up, created an account and claimed our storm drain. Harold Green, aka Mr. Green, was part of our family.

It was time to meet him. This proved to be more challenging than adopting a drain. Weeks of snow had created a small mountain of ice. Based on the drain locator map, we only knew the general vicinity where Harold was located on the corner of 27th and Dupont. I got our shovels and ice scraper and went to work with my 8-year-old son. Hours later, as afternoon turned to night, the corner looked cleaner, but there was no sight of our adopted drain.

It was time to call it a day. Our first meeting with Harold would have to wait.

Another neighbor in the block club shared a great suggestion in the same block email thread. In the past, her husband had used Google Maps satellite mode to find the exact location of a drain. Bingo. I pulled up Google Street View and pinpointed where the drain was located. It was to the left of a lamppost, right off the sidewalk, on the street, buried beneath ice at least two feet from the curb and two feet deep.

This job was going to require more than an ice scraper and shovels. We went to the hardware store to get a pickax. Many other people had the same idea, and the store was sold out. We drove to another store and got one. 

We returned to work and chipped away at the ice mountain, breaking up the ice and shoveling it away. This started to feel like rolling a boulder up a hill. But little by little, we made progress. After a few hours of swinging the pickax and shoveling away a few pounds of ice, we heard a glorious clank. I looked down and saw a tiny hole in the ground. It was the drain. You would have thought we had struck gold. 

We cleared away all of the snow and ice covering the drain. Water started going down it. The sound and sight of water going down an unclogged drain is a beautiful thing. Many people agree. There's even a TikTok account called Unclogging Drains that shows videos of people unclogging drains worldwide. It has 1.7 million followers.

Now, I am one proud pop. I drive by our drain daily to see how Harold is doing. My wife and kids think I'm nuts. But I am committed to keeping our drain clean to protect our water.

This is the power of community. This is the power of collective action. It adds up to make a difference. 

If you'd like to adopt a drain and track the impact you're making with other volunteers, go to


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