Metro residents encouraged to help clear storm drains as cities try to cut through ice using steam

Fargo Public Works employees use a steam machine that shoots out steam at 200 degrees to help melt snow and ice around storm sewer drains.  WDAY photo
Fargo Public Works employees use a steam machine that shoots out steam at 200 degrees to help melt snow and ice around storm sewer drains. WDAY photo

FARGO — When Nels Backman of south Fargo tried to help his neighborhood by clearing out the storm drain in front of his home last week, he found a daunting task.

The drain to help carry the snowmelt away was buried in more than 8 feet of snow and ice, but he eventually got to it.

Backman got back at the chore this week when he used his snowblower to make a channel along the curb to help carry water away when it continues to melt this week.

"I figure the more water we can get to the river, the better off we'll be, so it's not all going down there at once," Backman said.

He said the snow banks have melted more in the past week than he imagined, which is probably why there's about 6 feet of water to drive through at the end of the driveways in his neighborhood in the 2200 block of 10th Street South.

With that one drain down, there's still an estimated 10,000 to go in Fargo, 6,200 in Moorhead and 6,000 in West Fargo, although many have been cleared already.

In Fargo, Public Works Supervisor Lee Anderson said a lot of the drains are being cleared, but he agrees with Backman that snow and ice pack in the gutters is a problem. He said the water just isn't flowing and is instead ending up in driveways and streets.

Anderson said the department just doesn't have the equipment to clear the snow and ice pack in all of the gutters along the city streets. "It would be a very, very, very difficult" job, he said.

But he believes the daytime weather this week in the 30s and 40s will help.

As for the 10,000 drains, Anderson said the city's steam machines that spew steam at 200 degrees are helping and that crews are mostly responding to requests from city residents who are reporting serious drainage problems.

He said some drains can be cleaned in five minutes, while others can take up to a half hour if the ice is thick and drains are really plugged. However, on a good day, crews can clean up to 50 drains. Still, Anderson appreciates the public's help to clear drains.

In Moorhead, Public Works Director Steve Moore said the city uses two steam machines plus graders and payloaders to clear extra snow from drains.

"It's a pretty big issue and our top priority right now," he said. "We worked through the weekend trying to snow blow and haul some areas to widen some of our streets and get to the catch basins."

Moore said they are addressing the most critical storm drains first, but still had a backlog of about 150 calls to answer

He said they just couldn't catch up this winter with the daily maintenance work such as pushing the snow back closer to the curb.

Moore thanked residents who have been trying to help with the drains, but realizes it's tough to get to them.

So far, Moore said there's been no major problems as far as water getting into buildings.

In West Fargo, Public Works Director Chris Brungardt said Wednesday the city was about 75 percent done with clearing drains in the city, but they were still getting a lot of calls from residents.

"It's tough slogging," he said about reaching the drains with the snow and ice pack. West Fargo is using one steam machine and two high-pressure water jet trucks to eat through the ice atop drains.

If residents can help, he said they can find drains by going to the City of West Fargo website, which has maps that show where drains are located.


If you are having serious storm drain troubles that create standing water, residents can call the following numbers for assistance:

Fargo: 701-241-1453

Moorhead: 218-299-5422

West Fargo: 701-433-5400