Ann Arbor’s "Heroes of the Storm" keep the water flowing

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​Video offers behind-the-scenes look at city's crucial stormwater system  ​

City workers worry about stormwater so Ann Arbor residents don't have to

Mark Sirls doesn't mind if Ann Arbor residents take him for granted.

He even takes pride in it.

“I always look at it like, the less the residents know we're out there, the better job we're doing," said Sirls, part of the six-member Ann Arbor Public Works crew devoted to ensuring the city's stormwater system operates asHeroes of the Storm article image.jpg efficiently as possible. “If we're doing it right, only a small amount of people​ should even notice us or that there was ever even a problem."

Not that Sirls, an infrastructure specialist, and the other Department of Public Works field workers on the stormwater team aren't visible in the community.

They're out each day in various sections of the city maintaining or repairing parts of the extensive stormwater system that includes more than 23,000 inlets and 540 miles of underground pipes and creeks that transport stormwater from residential and commercial areas to the Huron River.

Sometimes, they attract the notice of residents curious about the work they're doing. “We don't have a problem taking a few minutes to let them know exactly what's going on and what our processes are," said Sirls, who has 20 years of stormwater experience, the last nine with Ann Arbor.

A standard procedure is using what is known as a vacuum truck to regularly clean debris from underground pipes to ensure water can continue to flow. It takes several years to clean all sections of pipe in order citywide.

“We start in one section of the city, work our way to the other and then start all over again," Sirls said.

It's usually a routine job, “except when we pull watches, cell phones and even tennis shoes from the storm lines," he said.

The workers are also regularly called on each spring to retrieve ducklings that have wandered into curb inlets.

“We always carry around nets in the springtime because there are always little ducks that fall down in there and the mom is up at the top squawking," Sirls said. “She lets us know exactly where they're at."

Sirls also encourages Ann Arbor residents to give stormwater workers themselves a helping hand by keeping nearby storm drains clear of debris that can cause water to back up into streets.

The Huron River Watershed Council operates an Adopt-a-Stormdrain program encouraging residents to volunteer to keep water inlets clear of debris.

To see Ann Arbor Public Works field workers in action and learn more about the city's stormwater system, check out this “Heroes of the Storm" video.