RUMOR: There Are Mulching Devices in the Storm Drains That Chop Up Leaves and Twigs Blown Into the Drains

FICTION: Interesting idea (calling all inventors!) but unfortunately, there are no devices inside storm drains that chop up twigs, leaves or any other debris so please don’t dump any kind of material into the storm drains. They’re solely for transporting stormwater runoff away from neighborhoods.

debris on a storm drainA resident sent us a screenshot of a conversation on Nextdoor that had a mix of fact and fiction in it. Jeff said, “The storm drains have commutators that chop up leaves and twigs. It is designed to handle normal amounts of debris. I agree that we shouldn’t rake/blow all of our yard debris into the street, but at the same time, flooding happens because of the amount of water exceeds the pumping capacity of the pumps.” Truth? We Googled “commutator” and that didn’t really help. Try it, you’ll see what we mean. 

Still, there’s a bit to unpack in this statement. First, Jeff is absolutely correct that we shouldn’t be blowing yard debris or any kind of trash into storm drains and gutters. Storm drains are connected to our lakes and waterways throughout Virginia Beach. Even if dumping trash or debris into a drain doesn’t cause a clog, it does pollute our lakes and waterways.

It’s also true that enough rain can overwhelm the capacity of the stormwater system. Think of it this way: If you put a funnel under your faucet and turn it on a low or medium capacity, the water will flow out the bottom of the funnel. The higher the faucet is turned, the more the water builds up because the amount of water exceeds the capacity of the funnel. The same principle explains how storm drainage systems work.  And, if there is an obstruction, the water flow is impacted even more. 

Jeff’s claim that there is hardware in the drain that chops up trash and debris is interesting… but not true. In fact, most of our stormwater system is passive, meaning gravity and the force of the water help move it through the pipes, not any special mechanisms or pumps.

The City looks after and maintains the drains throughout the year, but with more than 40,000 of them spread across 300 square miles of land, we rely on residents to report clogs and other issues so they can be addressed quickly. The best way to do that is to give us a call at 311, or visit​

Residents are responsible for keeping the curbs and sidewalks in front of their property up to the pavement clear of debris, according to City Code​. You can be a real neighborhood hero and adopt a nearby drain, pledging to keep the area around it clear and report any issues to the City. You even get to name the drain as part of the process. More information about adopting a drain is available on the program’s website.

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