Stormwater Operations Branch

Johana E. Clark, P.E.,PTOE, ENV SP - Senior Assistant Director

The Stormwater Operations Branch (SWOB) oversees the daily performance of Houston’s critical drainage infrastructure delivering results through maintenance and rehabilitation projects in a timely and cost-effective manner for community. The Branch provides planning, engineering & project management support services. Infrastructure supported includes storm sewer systems, roadside & off-road ditches, detention basins and stormwater pump stations. Stormwater Operations leads the implementation of green infrastructure and other sustainable & resilient practices. The community can report drainage related problems at the City’s 311 Help Line.

The SWOB’s core services are shared between five primary areas as follows:

Storm Sewer Maintenance

The Storm Sewer Maintenance Section (closed system) handles the operation and maintenance of the City's storm sewer system including tasks such as inspecting, cleaning, and repairing manholes, inlets, and storm sewer lines.

This section operates and maintains the following assets over a 650 square mile region:

  • Approximately 3,900 Miles of Storm Sewer Lines
  • Approximately 250,000 Related Infrastructure (manholes, inlets, other)
  • 6,305 Outfalls
  • 33 Roadway Underpasses with Storm Ponding Level Warning Devices (14 with Pump Stations)

This Section is also responsible for entering large-diameter storm sewers to remove debris and objects that can block the storm sewer. These tasks are performed by "Confined Space Entry" teams that ensure safe maintenance in these conditions. The Section also conducts inspections of new and rehabilitated storm water systems. By design, storm sewers are self-cleaning; however, these sewers are designed only for storm water and empty directly into major ditches and bayous. To limit environmental concerns and maintenance needs, citizens should never dispose of grass clippings, motor oil, or any other items/debris in the storm sewer.

Ditch Maintenance

The Ditch Maintenance Section (open system) handles the operation and maintenance of the City's ditches (roadside and major/off-road) and detention systems which includes tasks such as de-silting and re-grading ditches, as well as flushing culverts under driveways and streets.

To ensure routine daily activities can be carried out, this section operates and maintains the following assets over a 650 square mile region:

  • Approximately 2,800 Miles of Roadside Ditches (Both Sides of Street)
  • 90 Miles of Off-Road/Major Drainage Ditches
  • 35 Storm Water Detention Basins

Ditch standing water (ponding) is to be expected in some cases and should not have a negative impact on operability as long as the ditch provides positive drainage during normal rainy conditions. Standing water is typically caused by driveway culverts of various sizes and offsets either not installed at the optimum ditch flow line or due to soil movement (attributable to changing moisture conditions).

Per City Code of Ordinance, it is the abutting property owner’s responsibility to maintain ditches free of debris so water can flow with minimal obstructions (clear of weeds, brush, rubbish, or any debris that may prevent the flow of water). SWOB re-grades ditches that become heavily silted. Culverts are also flushed during this activity. On the other hand, new culverts, or culverts that are damaged or undersized below residential or commercial driveways, are the property owner's responsibility for replacement. Property owners have the option to make repairs to the driveway and its culvert; however, this requires all parties involved to coordinate with the City through the permitting system. Many off-road/major drainage ditches are also cleaned and re-graded by the Section. These off-road ditches collect storm water from many smaller ditches and storm sewers and transport it to larger ditches and/or bayous maintained by the Harris County Flood Control District.

Vegetation Management

The Vegetation Management Section maintains the green spaces in the City’s right-of-way (behind curb line), off-road channels, and drainage easements by properly controlling it in an environmentally sensitive and uniform manner while prioritizing safety considerations and drainage functionality. This Section also inspects and maintains green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) applications located in the City’s right-of-way while coordinating with technical and specialized internal and contracted services. The green areas maintained by the Vegetation Management Section are structured in 12 “green zones” that have similar acreage and are mowed on an even one-to-two times a year cycle citywide based on available resources. Click to see City’s Green Zone Map here.

Engineering & Project Management

The Engineering & Project Management Section provides support to the field operations of the Branch focusing on maintenance and rehabilitation projects, monitoring project spending, preparing bid items, establishing design and construction contracts, monitoring contractors, creating scopes of work for projects, conducting drainage assessments and in-house designs, and collecting any other data needed to identify drainage concerns. In addition, this Section responds to requests for drainage information from other governmental and private entities and works closely with other City departments and Houston Public Works service lines. The Engineering and Project Management Section oversees maintenance-support and rehabilitation initiatives such as Local Drainage Projects (LDP) and the Stormwater Action Team (SWAT), and provides plan review and drainage expertise services.

GIS & Asset Management

The GIS & Asset Management Section is responsible for recording and maintaining up to date all data related with the City’s stormwater infrastructure maintained by the Branch. Staff researches and analyzes various data sources such as GIS, work order systems, Capital Improvement Project Management Systems, and Permitting Center databases to provide recommendations and reports through business intelligence analytics tools. Staff maintains GIS databases, updates, and QA/QC storm water infrastructure, Local Drainage Projects (LDP), and Storm Water Action Team (SWAT) project data.  GIS & Asset management staff is critical to the branch’s field sections as they perform data collection efforts and lead training on technology tools for asset data recording, work order processing and infrastructure inspections. The GIS & Asset Management Section provides wide support to all other branches within Transportation & Drainage Operations.

Stormwater Planning

The Stormwater Planning Section is responsible for analyzing data to identify drainage infrastructure needs in the city. The Section leads engineering studies to review alternative infrastructure improvements and develops the appropriate project recommendations. Stormwater Planning works closely with partner agencies and City Departments including Harris County Flood Controls District, Houston Parks, Metro, TXDOT and other entities for a unified and coordinated project development throughout the City.

How Can the Community Help Maintaining the City’s Drainage Infrastructure?

  • Participate in the City’s Adopt-A-Drain Program: www.HoustonAdoptaDrain.org
  • By adopting a drain and keeping it clear of leaves and trash, you are helping to keep Houston clean and reduce flooding.
  • Maintain your roadside ditches and swales open and free of clippings, leaves, limbs, and other garden debris so that nothing obstructs the flow of stormwater.
  • Do not misuse your open ditch or swale by avoiding parking vehicles in the ditch or swale because it compacts the soil and allows less stormwater runoff to soak into the ground.
  • Let stormwater pond. When water ponds in the roadside ditch or swale for 24 to 36 hours, the ditch or swale is doing its job and will eventually convey water to an inlet or allow it to percolate into the soil. Advise local officials about flooding only if water ponds so long that ditch or swale vegetation begins to die.
  • When landscaping your property, remember that you should never change the grading of slopes that drain into canals, waterways, or lakes. The grading is based on state and local minimum requirements and was designed to meet water quantity and quality criteria.
  • Build green infrastructure applications in your property. Green infrastructure helps minimize the impacts of development and mimic how rainfall behaves when it falls onto a green landscape. Resources at http://www.greenhoustontx.gov/ and http://www.houstontx.gov/igd/
  • Go green! Go plastic free! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!