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Houston's Adopt-A-Drain program falls short of expectations

HOUSTON – Houston’s Adopt-A-Drain initiative has the potential to have a wide, positive impact on the city’s drainage problems, but more than four months after the program’s debut, it continues to experience growing pains, Channel 2 Investigates found.

Adopt-A-Drain is a simple idea: Have ordinary citizens clean and clear storm drains near their own homes, schools and businesses.

The program uses very few city resources. There is no budgetary line item for Adopt-A-Drain.

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Instead, corporate sponsors have kicked in about $15,000 so far, and that money has primarily been used to get the word out about the program and to purchase Houston Adopt-A-Drain-branded giveaway items at public events.

The nonprofit group Keep Houston Beautiful does public outreach for the program, in partnership with the mayor’s office, Public Works and the corporate sponsors.

There are over 76,000 drains in Houston that are up for adoption, according to the city of Houston’s Public Works Department. By early August, only 1,167 drains had been adopted.

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That scant adoption rate may be partially attributable to the program's website.

We found the website intermittently failed to load.

We had more luck by going directly to this unadvertised website.

The city acknowledged the issue in a recent email to Channel 2 Investigates that said:

“I wanted to let you know that Houston Public Works, along with the Mayor’s Office are working to address concerns about the accessibility of the Adopt-A-Drain website. The City has identified the specific concerns and is working towards a permanent solution as the Adopt-A-Drain program continues to evolve.”

Another issue, early on, marred the program’s rollout.

Days after it debuted in April, adopted drains were being given pornographic names that linked to an adult sex toy store in Arizona. In a message to Channel 2 Investigates, a representative of that company denied the business had anything to do with the names.

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Now, at least temporarily, the names adopters give to their drains -- you can adopt more than one -- are not visible to the public.

At its core, Houston Adopt-A-Drain appears to be a beneficial program, by most yardsticks. It costs the city virtually nothing to maintain and invites people of all walks of life to participate in a community effort to fight flooding and reduce litter.

Several civic groups and businesses, particularly Downtown businesses, have signed on.

Sharpstown High School’s National Honor Society and its acting club, International Thespian Society Troupe #6511, have successfully tackled more than a half-dozen drains near the school.

A more reliable website experience may be the key to wider adoption.