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File #: 23-2247   
Type: Information and Discussion Status: Agenda Ready
Meeting Body: Transportation, Infrastructure, and Planning Subcommittee
On agenda: 9/20/2023 Final action:
Title: Storm Drain and Wash Maintenance Update
District: Citywide


Storm Drain and Wash Maintenance Update



This report provides the Transportation, Infrastructure and Planning Subcommittee with an update on the Street Transportation Department’s efforts and challenges in maintaining storm drains and washes throughout the City of Phoenix.






The Street Maintenance Division within the Street Transportation Department (Streets) is tasked with management and maintenance of a large network of drainage facilities comprised of storm drains, drainage easements and washes across Phoenix. This includes 18 major washes approximately 29.5 miles in length and over 1,000 drainage easements covering an area totaling nearly 11 million square feet.


In addition to these facilities, additional drainage easements and washes across the City are maintained by private entities, such as homeowners’ associations, individual homeowners, commercial property owners and business organizations. Still other drainage facilities may fall under the maintenance responsibilities of other Federal, State or County agencies.


Maintenance Frequency and Budget

Streets generally maintains and cleans washes on a priority basis, addressing areas that are subject to flooding due to significant vegetation growth; although washes may also be cleaned on an “as needed” basis in response to reported constituent concerns or City staff recommendations. Typical maintenance includes trimming and clearing of vegetation in the drainage channel, clearing storm drain blockages, and removing storm debris. However, due to the rise in the unsheltered population in recent years, washes and drainage easements can require additional unscheduled maintenance to address encampments built in these areas by those experiencing homelessness. 


Streets has an annual budget of $1 million for maintenance of City washes and drainage easements funded by a portion of the City’s Storm Water Fee.This maintenance activity cannot be funded with Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF), Streets primary source of funding, because these areas fall outside of public right-of-way. During the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023-24 City budget process, Streets was allocated an additional $150,000 from the City’s General Fund to increase maintenance of City washes and drainage easements, and to address additional cleaning of roadway medians. This additional budget is anticipated to allow Streets to increase the frequency of maintenance of some washes and drainage easements, and to address additional unscheduled cleaning and maintenance requests for City washes and drainage easements.


Maintenance Challenges

Streets faces several challenges in cleaning and maintenance of City washes and drainage easements to meet the expectations of the public. These include staffing, budget, and the increasing demand for encampment cleanups. 


Staffing Resources

Streets utilizes both City crews and contractors to address cleaning and maintenance of washes and drainage easements. Like other City departments, Streets has experienced challenges in hiring and retaining qualified staff. Despite frequent recruitment efforts, Streets’ vacancy rates, especially in its field staff positions, have remained high. However, Streets remains hopeful that its growing Street Maintenance Worker apprenticeship program, and the impacts of the recent citywide compensation adjustments, will help fill these critical positions. Similarly, the contractors Streets uses to perform maintenance on washes and drainage easements are facing similar staffing challenges, which can impact their ability to be responsive, especially for unscheduled maintenance activities. 


Budget Resources

Streets' current budget generally covers high priority areas and a number of additional unscheduled cleaning and maintenance projects throughout the year. Ideally, City-owned and maintained washes and drainage easements should be cleaned and maintained on a schedule of one to two times per year. Streets estimates that its annual budget would need to be increased by $4.6 million to maintain all areas once per year and $10.4 million for maintenance twice per year. The total budget would then be $5.8 million to $11.5 million annually to achieve these cleaning and maintenance levels of service, respectively. 


People Experiencing Homelessness

Increasingly, City-owned washes and drainage easements are being used as encampments by those facing homelessness. This is especially true within many of our concrete culvert structures that allow storm water to flow under our streets. Encampments add another aspect to regular maintenance, in that these encampments must be removed in order for staff to gain access to maintain the washes and drainage easements. Over the past two fiscal years (FY 2021-22 and FY 2022-23), Streets has removed 547 tons of debris and trash from washes, easements, and culverts. In the current fiscal year (FY 2023-24), Streets has removed 109 tons of debris and trash from these areas. Streets staff works closely with PHX C.A.R.E.S. to ensure that our citizens facing these difficult situations are treated with dignity and respect, while allowing us to maintain these areas.


Culvert Storm Gate Pilot Project

In 2022, Streets proposed a pilot project to install gates to cover the upstream and downstream ends of a concrete culvert that crosses under Cave Creek Road at John Cabot Road. This culvert structure was being actively used as an encampment by those experiencing homelessness. In response, Streets requested a special allocation of capital funds from the Storm Water Fee program to fabricate and install these gates. The Storm Water Fee Executive Committee approved $75,000 in funding for this pilot project, primarily due to its potential to reduce biological waste and other contaminants that could enter the City’s storm water system. Streets completed fabrication and installation of the gates in March 2023. The gates are “barndoor” style, and the design allows staff to open the gates fully during rain events to allow water to flow through the culvert. The design is intended to prevent potential flooding if accumulated storm debris were to block or restrict stormwater flows through the culvert.   


Based on similar issues around the City and the success of the pilot in deterring encampment activities, reducing trash and debris in the culverts, and addressing stormwater quality concerns, Streets has been working to identify funding to expand the pilot to additional areas of concern around the City. There is a potential to utilize block watch grant funding for additional installation projects.



Responsible Department

This item is submitted by Deputy City Manager Alan Stephenson and the Street Transportation Department.