The History of the Storm Drain

Closeup,of,house,rain,gutter,clogged,with,colorful,leaves,fallingThe History of the Storm Drain

A storm drain is a drainage system that is commonly found in urban areas and is designed to collect rainwater and other types of runoff from paved surfaces such as roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. By gathering the water and directing it into a separate underground system, it can be prevented from causing flooding and water damage. Let’s dive into the history of the storm drain and how it became an essential component of modern urban infrastructure.

Early Water Management

Water management has been an essential aspect of human civilization for thousands of years. Early civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans developed sophisticated systems to manage water resources, including irrigation canals, aqueducts, and even underground drainage systems.

The first known underground drainage system was constructed in the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro, located in modern-day Pakistan, around 2500 BCE. This system was made of brick and consisted of a network of interconnected tunnels and drains that were designed to collect and divert wastewater away from the city.

The Industrial Revolution and Urbanization

The Industrial Revolution led to a massive expansion of cities as people flocked to urban areas in search of work. As cities grew, so did the need for efficient water management systems. Early stormwater management systems consisted of open ditches and culverts that were designed to channel rainwater away from urban areas.

In the mid-19th century, the first enclosed storm sewer systems were installed in London. These systems consisted of brick-lined tunnels that were designed to collect runoff and discharge it into the Thames River. The enclosed system helped reduce the spread of water-borne diseases during heavy rains, which was a significant issue in urban areas at the time due to poor sanitation.

In the United States, the first storm sewer system was installed in Los Angeles in the late 19th century. The city’s rapidly growing population had led to significant flooding and water damage during the rainy season, and the new system was designed to alleviate the problem. The system consisted of concrete-lined channels that were constructed to direct stormwater away from the city and discharge it into the Pacific Ocean.

Modern Storm Drainage Systems

Today, storm drains are an essential component of modern urban infrastructure, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In urban areas, they are typically constructed of concrete or PVC and consist of a series of interconnected pipes and channels that are designed to collect and direct stormwater runoff away from roads, sidewalks, and other paved surfaces.

Many modern storm drainage systems are equipped with a range of advanced features that help improve their effectiveness and efficiency. These can include filter systems that remove pollutants and debris from the water, retention ponds that help reduce the volume of water that enters the system, and overflow systems that prevent stormwater from overwhelming the system during heavy rains.

One of the most significant advances in stormwater management in recent years has been the use of green infrastructure. This includes features such as green roofs, bioswales, and rain gardens that are designed to mimic the natural water cycle and reduce stormwater runoff. By reducing the amount of water that enters the storm drain system, green infrastructure helps reduce the risk of flooding and water damage, while also improving water quality.

Environmental Concerns

While storm drains play an essential role in managing stormwater runoff in urban areas, they can also pose environmental risks if not properly maintained. The most significant environmental concern associated with storm drains is the discharge of pollutants such as oil, gasoline, and other harmful chemicals into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Polluted runoff can be a significant issue, as it can kill fish and other aquatic life, contaminate drinking water supplies, and contribute to the development of harmful algal blooms. To address this issue, many cities have implemented pollution prevention programs that aim to reduce the amount of pollutants that enter the storm sewer system. These can include public education campaigns, regulations restricting the use of certain chemicals, and storm drain inlet filters to capture pollutants before they enter the system.


The history of the storm drain dates back thousands of years, and it has become an essential component of modern urban infrastructure. As cities continue to expand, the need for efficient stormwater management systems will only continue to grow. While storm drains can pose environmental risks if not properly maintained, they play a vital role in protecting urban areas from flooding and water damage. Through the use of advanced features and green infrastructure, storm drainage systems have become more efficient and effective in managing stormwater runoff. By continuing to develop and improve these systems, we can help ensure that our cities remain safe and resilient in the face of natural disasters.