March 2023Vol. 31, No. 1

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Culvert cleaner helps prevent flooding

Culvert cleaner

Photo: Washington County Dept. of Public Works (NY)

Beavers looking for a home inside culverts create big problems for drivers and the Department of Public Works in Washington County, New York. The dirt the critters pack inside the culverts causes not only roadway flooding but also a safety hazard for public works employees tasked with clearing out the culverts.

“The safety concerns of the employees entering a culvert in the water were very high because of the potential of being bitten by beavers, snakes, and turtles and even getting leeches,” says Michael Newell with the Washington County Department of Public Works. “And of course, there’s the possibility of getting Giardiasis/beaver fever from potential ingestion of the contaminated water.”

The solution was to design and build a tool to clean culverts without employees having to risk their safety entering water. “We were looking for a tool that would not damage the plastic culverts and [would] fit into a minimum 15-inch diameter culvert and could reach inside up to 20 to 24 feet, especially since the obstruction tends to occur within 10 feet of the culvert opening,” Newell says.

The Culvert Cleaner accomplished just that. It was developed in-house by the engineering department using parts it already had and approximately 40 labor hours. The innovation saves money and time and improves safety for the workers and the community.

2022 Mousetrap booklet online

Mousetrap entries from all over the
country are in the 2022 booklet.

Newell says the idea for the Culvert Cleaner came to him overnight after watching a few YouTube videos and thinking about history. “I thought about how during the medieval time period, they would keep hitting the door and ramming the door until it opened. I knew the Culvert Cleaner needed to be heavy enough to stay in the culvert without damaging it and [have] no sharp edges to it.”

According to Newell, the first attempt at the Culvert Cleaner was not strong enough, among other limitations, such as not having enough reach. So, they tried it again and successfully built a second one that was stronger with a reach of about 20 feet. The culverts are cleaned out within a couple of minutes using the innovation, exceeding their expectations.

Newell’s advice to other agencies is to “be brave and just take the challenge on. Just do it. Don’t be afraid, and accept the fact that you have options and that there are other tools that can be used.”

He also wants agencies to know that if they are interested in building their own Culvert Cleaner, keep safety in mind: “Safety is very important when it comes to using this tool. Use experienced workers to operate it because it has to be moved just right.”

The project received the 2022 Build a Better Mousetrap Pioneer Award from the National LTAP Association.

Learn more:

  • Michael Newell, Washington County Dept. of Public Works (NY), 518-746-2440