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You Can Adopt a Drain in San Francisco — With Naming Rights Included

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a person in jeans is seen from the waist down, sweeping debris from a wet road near a storm drain
Antonio Lopez clears debris from a drain near his home on 21st and Florida Streets in San Francisco on Jan. 5, 2023. Drains like this are all around the city, just waiting to be cleaned up and anointed with punny names! (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Storm drains: Much like garbage disposals or, say, the human digestive system, they’re the kind of thing you don’t really think about until they stop working. And stop working they have over the past week, as record-breaking rainfall has contributed to flooded streets in many Bay Area cities.

But in San Francisco, at least, the flooding also seems to have brought some positive attention to one normally unsexy aspect of our civic infrastructure. Via the city’s Adopt-a-Drain program, passionate citizen volunteers get sweet neon vests, equipment for clearing debris and, notably, naming rights over the storm drain of their choice. That’s how it came to be that there are drains scattered throughout San Francisco with official names like “Thirsty Boi,” “You’re So Drain,” “Here Comes the Drain Again,” “Drainmond Green” and — simply, beautifully — “Mac Drain.”

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesperson Sabrina Suzuki told SFGATE in 2021 that the initiative, launched by SFPUC’s Water Power Sewer division in 2016, was born of the fact that the crews employed to do so simply couldn’t keep up maintenance of the city’s more than 25,000 storm drains. Which seems … not great! Your tax dollars at work, etc. (Though, given the past couple years of headlines coming out of the SFPUC, perhaps leaves gunking up the city’s drainage system begins to seem like small potatoes.)

In any event, what’s now my second-favorite community engagement effort from a San Francisco public utility to date — it will be tough to top this BAYCAT-produced music video from 2015 — appears to have been a moderate success, with more than 4,000 drains currently enjoying regular cleanup by local good Samaritans.

That means there are more than 20,000 drains still available for adopting in San Francisco: Visit www.adoptadrain.sfwater.org for more info or to sign up, or to simply peruse the names and drains that are already taken. (Note that after going viral yesterday, the website is crashing intermittently.)

Meanwhile, San Mateo, Oakland and Burlingame all have their own adopt-a-drain programs, though none of those systems seems to have inspired the level of celebrity tribute nor punnery present here in the city. Perhaps it’s time to get Too $hort on the case.

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