Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
Every spring the Mississippi River floods, but the downtown area of Davenport Iowa refuses to build a levee system to hold the waters back. It would block the river view. Some years the waters come several blocks up the banks and flood out local businesses.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Over the week I somehow stumbled upon a YouTube video an hour long about unclogging a drain on a lake. I don't know why YouTube found this video for me or why I decided to watch it, but I was programming and the video was just on in the background.

There is a time-lapse version of the video below (1min 30s) or the original hour long.

I watched this guy explain how debris leads to clogging the drain and thus the water level rises at the houses nearby. The city would normally wait until the problem was severe, then bring out a heavy piece of machinery that would hook onto the chain (shown later in video) to simply lift the grate out.

This would cause a rush of water downstream, but would quickly drain the flooding and resolve it. However, our YouTube user ("post 10") went on another journey to unclog this himself. It took roughly an hour of scrapping debris off the drain and carefully walking on the grate against a growing current.

At one point during the video, the current becomes so strong the grate begins bending under the pressure of so much water. The gif below shows the YouTuber realizing this and getting off the plate.

The power of water with debris removed

At this point in the video we watch the water rushing and the YouTuber decides to go check the other end of this tube, which causes this video to take a turn. We notice clean rushing water on one end going into the tube and dirty muddy water coming out. We learn from the YouTuber that this means there is a break in the tube underground which is causing dirt to be eroded. Erosion paired with an extreme current from the quickly draining pond could lead to a sink hole.

Thankfully I found this video a month after it was released, so there was an update video already!

The video (or the call he placed) attracted the attention of the local news. The news did some investigative work determining who owned the drain and culvert, while also not encouraging any self repair work due to the danger. So this was the news story, but the YouTuber made their own video below.

I don't know why all of this fascinated me, but probably because you drive by hundreds of these throughout a month and never really think how they work. I began watching more and more videos, learning about the different types of pipes, angles and how much knowledge this individual had about the draining pattern for roads.

At another point, this guy even walks through a drain pipe when its half full!

I continued watching more and more videos and picking up some interesting tidbits of knowledge from this guy:

  • He mocked the city for installing drains backwards, as the slots are supposed to be facing inline to promote water being drawn into it vs ramping off of it.
  • He questioned why the design of some drainage engineering was done vs other patterns
  • He complained about those that threw the trash back into the river (4 tires) after he took it out
  • He complained about those that intentionally splashed him with water driving by
  • He explained the incline design of roads depending on where they are located
  • He explained the physics behind air needing to escape from the drain in order for water to quickly drain

All in all, this was the best YouTube discovery I've made in awhile. However, it doesn't mean I'm going to throw on some protective gear and go unclog some drains.

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