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Pittsburgh-area environmental group wants volunteers to help keep storm grates clear. Here's why

Environmental group wants volunteers to keep storm drains free of debris
Environmental group wants volunteers to keep storm drains free of debris 03:30

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- We walk past them or step over them all the time, but a local group says storm grates are the key to keeping our communities safe and stable.

"If you just walk out your door 50 feet one direction, you're likely to see one," said Gwen Sadler with Allegheny CleanWays.

Those grates allow our streets and bridges to drain after heavy rain or flooding if they're not clogged with debris. That's why the Allegheny CleanWays plans to launch a new program to adopt a grate and become a "GrateKeeper."

"The idea with the GrateKeepers program specifically is to help us manage our stormwater issues," said Sadler.

Clogged storm grates on the Fern Hollow Bridge contributed to its collapse and Sadler says it's an issue of safety and keeping our infrastructure in good condition.

Photo shows a clogged storm grate on the Fern Hollow Bridge.  (Photo: Provided)

"It was determined outright that stormwater issues were the cause of the bridge collapse because the water was unable to flow properly and the bridge legs were not able to dry out how they were supposed to and they weakened over years of negligence and people just overlooking it," said Sadler.

Sadler says now you can help prevent this damage from happening to our infrastructure by becoming a GrateKeeper and maintaining a grate near you by attending the April 27 event with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Penn State Watershed Stewards. 

"If you want to become a steward with our GrateKeeper programs, it's one of our lowest commitment opportunities to help out. Ideally you pick a storm drain you live nearby or maybe it's on one of your favorite walks," said Sadler. 

All you need is time, a trash bag and to focus on the debris on top of the grate. Don't crawl in.

"Maybe just once a week or even just after heavy rains, you just go out and you just help clean up debris -- maybe a shovel, maybe a broom, a little bucket," said Sadler.

People can sign up online.

"Once you sign up on our website and claim your drain, we will provide some sort of kit for you to help clean up everything and you'll get a custom vest to help identify you on the street," said Sadler.

And if you're wondering: what does this mean for city or county workers who are responsible for cleaning the grates?

"The worry that we would be giving the city workers a day off is just not legitimate," said Sadler. "They are running around 24 hours on the clock dealing with the highest risk situations."

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