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Cambridge Debuts Storm Stewards Volunteer Program to Keep Storm Drains Clear

The Weeks Memorial Bridge is located over the Charles River. Cambridge announced a program recruiting volunteers to keep local storm drains clear of debris.
The Weeks Memorial Bridge is located over the Charles River. Cambridge announced a program recruiting volunteers to keep local storm drains clear of debris. By Sarah G. Erickson
By Michael A. Maines, Crimson Staff Writer

The City of Cambridge announced the launch of its Storm Stewards program earlier this month, which seeks to recruit volunteers to “claim” local storm drains and commit to keep the drains free of debris.

Though Cambridge Public Works performs routine maintenance on stormwater collection infrastructure, there are not enough staff to clean all of the city’s 5,800 drains prior to major rain events, according to Cambria Ung, the CPW stormwater program manager.

“There’s not going to be enough staff to be able to hit all of those in one day,” Ung said in an interview.

Storm Stewards is a two-pronged approach to help the city deal with stormwater. The program aims to not only assist with storm drain maintenance but also to serve as an educational program for residents.

“People walk by storm drains all day, and they might not know what happens to the water once it gets into the storm drain or where the water is going,” Ung said. “So this program, because it kind of has an element where there’s a map, and you can see if there's a storm drain outside your house, and kind of think about where the water is going, it helps with that education piece.”

In the weeks since the program launched in Cambridge, more than 170 drains have been claimed.

The program is part of a larger initiative by the Mystic River Watershed Association — an Arlington-based nonprofit — to promote awareness about stormwater management.

Major rain events tend to wash phosphorus and trash into waterways, according to Sushant Bajracharya, urban water ambassador at MRWA.

“All the water that’s passing by turns into a small stream, and when that happens, it collects everything,” Bajracharya said.

Large rain storms also wash natural waste such as leaves and sticks into drains, where they clog the drains, leading to flooding issues, he added.

Bajracharya also said that intensified rain events caused by climate change are making the problem worse.

“There’s a direct correlation between the size of the storm and the size of the pollutants that’s being carried into the river,” Bajracharya said.

To Bajracharya, programs such as Storm Stewards are a “gateway” for people to learn about these environmental issues.

Some residents have chosen humorous names for their drains, such as “Hamilton McCloggin” and “Jar Jar Sinks,” which both Bajracharya and Ung said could be useful for popularizing the program.

For Ung, the Storm Stewards program is about showing residents that there are simple ways they can serve their neighborhood and the environment.

“A lot of times people ask me, ‘What can I do to help?’ This is a really easy way for us to say there is something that you can do on your street,” Ung said.

—Staff writer Michael A. Maines can be reached at Follow him on X @m_a_maines.

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