Failed Storm Drain was Rusted Away

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 8, 2023

A failed storm drain along the Embarcadero that caused the roadway to sink revealed a major issue with the old drainpipe, prompting the City to want to take a closer look at the condition of other storm drains in town.

City Engineer Eric Riddiough told Estero Bay News that the storm drain that failed, located just north of the intersection with Beach Street, basically rusted away.

“The corrugated metal storm drain that was uncovered during the construction,” Riddiough said, “was found to have some holes in the bottom from rust. This likely caused the soil around the pipe to settle during the heavy rains and resulted in the pavement failing. The whole line crossing Embarcadero was found to be similarly rusting out, so it is all being replaced from road edge to road edge.”

The City reportedly hired a contractor, N. Brent Knowles Construction of Cayucos, to dig up the street and expose the drain. It ended up replacing the pipe from the storm drain inlet underneath Embarcadero to where it empties into the bay.

This winter’s seen some heavy rains. Starting last October, the fire department has recorded over 15.30-inches of rain at the Harbor Street Firehouse and 10.93” just since Jan. 1. The rains have exposed problems with the City’s aging storm drainage system.

“The storms,” Riddiough said, “have brought to light many storm drain and flooding concerns citywide, not just by the waterfront. Since this sinkhole developed on the Embarcadero, one of the busiest roads of tourism and commerce in the city, the work could not be delayed.”

The City is putting together a project to hire someone to video inspect troublesome storm drains.

“We are in the process of getting a consultant to video inspect many of the lines that have been reported with similar failures,” Riddiough said. “Video inspection inside of the storm drains is not something that the City has the capability to do internally.”

With the City’s sewer project now all but wrapped up, the attention could soon turn to the storm drains, which were of enough concern back in 2006 to have the City Council promise to use some of the money from the Measure Q sales tax increase for maintaining the storm drainage system. Measure Q is also supposed to be used to meet unfilled needs of the police and fire departments, and provide money for street repairs, as well as the storm drains.

“This is something that the Director [Greg Kwolek] and I are trying to advocate for in the upcoming budget cycle. The City’s annual storm drain maintenance currently is to clear out lines and inspect drop inlets. It requires special equipment to inspect the inside of the lines.”

With all the red flowering eucalyptus trees that line the Downtown streets and the leaf and seed pod litter they drop profusely, the drop inlets Downtown in the gutters can get filled up and require cleaning before winter rains begin, which this rainy season actually started in September, a bit earlier than normal for our area.

And the waterfront has a bunch of these drains that empty directly into the Bay. “The city has 15-20 different storm drain lines that cross Embarcadero into the bay,” Riddiough said.

As for how the City will pay for fixing the failed drain on the Embarcadero, Riddiough said they’d already budgeted all the Measure Q monies this fiscal year. “Measure Q funds are fully used on other budgeted projects,” he said. “This work is not budgeted and will have to be covered by reserve funds and hopefully reimbursed from FEMA or CalOES as part of the emergency storm related work.”

The City had initially estimated $30 million in losses from the big storm of Jan. 8-9 that flooded about a square mile of the City along Main Street from Radcliff to Atascadero Road and up Atascadero Road towards the beach. The City Maintenance Yard and old sewer treatment plant were flooded in that big storm when Morro Creek overflowed its banks. Several pieces of City-owned equipment and some vehicles owned by City maintenance workers were swamped in that flood.

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