Cleaning the streets means cleaner rivers

The roving fleet of street sweepers that operates on a daily basis in the City of Asheville does more than just make for nicer looking roadways. The sweepers also pick up and collect dirt, particles and leaves that could otherwise clog the city’s storm water drains or flow into local waterways.

Stormwater runoff from streets and other impervious surfaces presents a serious threat to water contamination in North Carolina, and preventing that pollution scenario or disruption to operational drains is a high priority for the City of Asheville and its Stormwater Services Division, the department that operates the city’s three street sweepers.

“Anything we can sweep up doesn’t end up in our waterways,” says Stormwater Services Manager McCray Coates.  The sweepers operate on a rotation that has them servicing any given location every two months, covering 4,527 miles last year. Alongside that schedule, they also sweep streets in the city’s Downtown Business District nightly and in Biltmore Village twice a week.

Stormwater Services also operates two vacuum trucks, larger vehicles that clear clogged drainage pipes of roots, debris and litter. Between the sweepers and the vacuum trucks, the City of Asheville collected 1,507.45 tons of material in 2009. That’s 3,014,900 pounds of material that would have otherwise blocked proper water drainage or wound up in the French Broad or Swannanoa rivers. Collected material is disposed of at the Buncombe County landfill.

While the vacuum truck crews respond to calls about clogged or overflowing drainage pipes, they also make regular rounds, cleaning 8,152 drains in 2009. The machines have the capability of forcing 3,600 pounds of pressure into the pipes to clear blockages before vacuuming them out.

“The stormwater system is underground,” Coates points out. “People don’t typically think about it until there is a problem.”

Like other elements of the stormwater plan, the street  sweeper and vacuum trucks are paid for by the City’s stormwater utility fee. The fee revenues go exclusively to stormwater mitigation strategies and was established by Asheville City Council in 2005 as part of the city’s upgrades in response to new federal and state requirements.

Click here for more information on the City of Asheville’s Stormwater Services and Utility.