Selma maps out repairs on storm drain infrastructure

City works on comprehensive storm drain master plan to address urgent infrastructure needs

(kalpis on Adobe Stock)
Serena Bettis
Published June 24, 2024  • 
9:30 am

SELMA – As became clear in February when a sinkhole opened up at the south end of the city along Golden State Boulevard, the city of Selma’s storm drain infrastructure is in dire need of increased maintenance and repair. 

While efforts to clean and assess storm drain infrastructure were already underway, the sinkhole showed the urgency of the situation and revealed critical issues with the infrastructure. For the last few months, the city has been working with consultant QK Engineering to develop a storm drain master plan that will map out the city’s infrastructure and detail needed improvements.

“Deferred maintenance is causing a lot of issues around the city with infrastructure — especially storm drain — and so part of our master plan … is to actually put and to instate a maintenance program that’s on a five-year cycle city wide,” Selma Public Works Director Michael Honn said as part of an update at the June 17 Selma City Council meeting. 

Honn said the city’s goal is to clean out all storm drain infrastructure over a five-year period, and then continuously start that cycle again so every storm drain line is thoroughly cleaned at least once every five years. Photos and videos that accompanied Honn’s presentation showed the extent of the dirt, debris and damage present in storm drain lines across Selma.

A few of the elements that require attention include curb inlets, trunk lines, pumps and probes in ponding basins and cross-intersection bubbler systems. In addition to the crack that caused the sinkhole in the concrete trunk line, other storm drain lines need to be cleared of mud and other random debris that is blocking the flow of water. 

Public works staff found chunks of asphalt, hammers, steel concrete stakes and even a ladder in one of the storm drain lines they cleaned, Honn said. Many of the lines that have been cleaned have had nearly a third of the available capacity blocked by sand and mud; within a 200-foot section of pipe, three truckloads of mud were cleaned out of the line.

“The impact from erosion and trash to our storm drain restricts the ability to flow discharge properly,” Honn said. “This causes flooding and potentially hazardous situations to occur, such as traffic accidents. Regular scheduled maintenance not only allows for runoff to flow properly but also extends infrastructure lifespan.”

When discussing how the storm drain master plan is being developed through documenting storm drain lines and using CCTV to assess their conditions, Mayor Scott Robertson questioned if the public works department would benefit from more experienced employees.

Honn, who started with the city in November 2023, said his employee with the longest tenure has worked for Selma for nearly 19 years; it’s not that public works department staff do not know where problem areas are, but rather that they need to document them to be able to properly maintain and monitor them. 

“I think part of the master plan process is also identifying problem areas and having them prioritized as areas either for maintenance or repair,” Deputy City Manager Jerome Keene said. “That’s why we go through the review and the modeling of our infrastructure, to ensure that it’s operating properly.”

Keene said the city needs to identify specific issues in the storm drain infrastructure in order to find and go after state or federal funding. To qualify for a grant, they must know where the problem is, what the nature of the problem is and how much it would cost to fix it. 

“What we’re doing is we’re collecting data to identify those bottleneck areas and those issues so that we can clearly tackle them in a systematic fashion,” Keene said. “As Director Honn had said, a five-year maintenance schedule to get through all of the city’s storm drain is our goal to ensure that it’s always operating at the optimum level to maintain public health and safety. That’s our goal at the end of the day.”

Selma has already dedicated some money to this work in its 2024-25 budget, Honn said, with funds allocated to allow for a three-month vactor truck rental, which is what is used to clean out the storm drains. It would cost the city upwards of $800,000 to purchase its own vactor truck, which Honn said is the eventual goal if funds can be set aside over time through the city’s capital improvement program. 

Moving forward once the storm drain master plan is complete, the city will add storm drain infrastructure improvement projects to its 10-year capital improvement program planning so that it can ensure Selma has safe, maintained infrastructure.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter