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Burlington's Newest Super Heroes: Drain Defenders

If you’re in Burlington, the city wants YOU to be a Drain Defender!

The Department of Public Works has established an adopt-a-drain program so residents can take ownership of the public infrastructure they might normally prefer to take for granted.

You don’t get paid, but you do get the chance to name your drain. And what could be better than that?

Some have “regular” names-- “Shelley”, or “Johnny Lipkin”. Then there’s the “Plain Drain”, and the “Grate Escape.” Some are punny: “Drain for Life”, “King of Drains” and “The Drain on Fire” (a reference to The Hunger Games book series). One is called “Woodlawn-Guswalk”, probably a reference to the adopter’s drain-cleaning dog walk.

“It’s great to get little glimpses into people’s lives and routines,” said Megan Moir, a storm water “plangineer” for the City of Burlington Public Works Department.

“Drain Defenders” help prevent flooding by clearing Burlington city drains of debris which keep water from draining.

“We want people to get to know their drain and watch out for it.” Says Moir. “There are some bad actors who will pour paint or other materials down the drain, and that can get to our waterways.”

But if there’s a problem with your drain, you don’t have to fix it—just give the city a call.

“You should never go inside the drain… you should only be clearing off the top of the drain and then giving us a call if there’s an issue.”

Adopt-A-Drain is an online tool that allows people to interface with the city about what’s happening with their drain. Users can find nearby drains and “adopt” them with a click of a button using an interactive map all of the drains in the city.

There is no limit to the number of drains you can adopt. So far, the program has 43 Drain Defenders who have adopted 62 drains. And with over 2,000 drains in Burlington, there are still plenty to go around.

“Everybody can get a piece of the action,” she said.

Moir got the idea for Adopt-A-Drain after hearing about an Adopt-A-Hydrant program on a TED Talk. With the help of a few City Hall interns, who found a similar program in Oakland, California, the Adopt-A-Drain tool was created.

“They also gave us a code, so we use that in-house to develop our own Adopt-A-Drain tool.”

Nine year old Ella Lipkin and her dad, Steve, are a couple of the Drain Defenders with the program.

“It’s sort of fun how they say “Adopt-A-Drain”, and you can name it and take care of it,” Ella Lipkin said. “And also I want to help prevent the flooding and stuff.”

Ella has three drains, whose names are “Johnny Lipkin”, “Mad Lee” and “Superdrain”.

Ella’s dad, Steve, says it’s possible the family may adopt more drains.

“We’re trying to entice her brother into adopting a few more, so I think we’re good for at least five or six,” he said.

“It seems like an easy, fun way to give back to the city, and to be involved with contributing to the betterment of the city, to the infrastructure,” Lipkin said. “It’s something that Ella’s really enjoyed doing, and the website is terrific. It’s neat to see all the available drains, and the ones that have been taken. So far it’s been a lot of fun for our family.”.

Moir says that it’s important for citizens to be a part of their infrastructure.

“The main thing is that we have so many drains, and people sometimes don’t realize the scope of all of our work,” she said. “We kind of forget that we’re all part of the city. We’re trying to bring us all back together as a team, and that’s really what initiatives like this are all about.”

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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