Cleaners Cash In on El Niño

California contractors were prepared when the rains began to fall, but keeping up with long-neglected sewers and drains have kept residential and commercial cleaners in high demand.
Cleaners Cash In on El Niño
Lane Post (center) with his sons Casey (left) and Kevin Post (right) co-own and manage Pacific Drain Service in Vista, California, serving the greater San Diego area. (Photo by Collin Chappelle)

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El Niño arrived in full force earlier this year, bringing with it frequent storms, heavy rainfall, and a wave of opportunity for cleaning contractors throughout California.

Bill Heinselman is the owner of Express Sewer & Drain in Rancho Cordova, located about 15 miles east of Sacramento. He says his crew of 40 is keeping busy in the northern part of the state, responding to calls primarily from business owners, homeowner associations, and condominium and apartment complexes.

“Because we have been in a drought for such a long time, business owners had been putting off taking care of their property,” he says. “Some of these properties had not had any maintenance of their pipes for years.

“We saw pipes that were so impacted with roots it was like solid wood. In one case we had to use a chainsaw to cut roots out. It was like chopping wood. It was crazy.”

He adds that shopping centers had major problems with flooding, largely due to lack of preventive maintenance.

“They would have a lot of trash build up and get into the storm drains,” Heinselman says. “It seems these property owners do not want to spend money unless they have to. The only time they call is when they want the service two hours ago, or yesterday.”

Heinselman says they took care of their regular customers first, and had to turn some folks away.

“With the heavy rain we were inundated with calls,” he says. “More than we could handle. I wish we could have responded to everyone, but it was impossible.”

Nearly 400 miles to the south, Jeff Cravens, owner of Morr-Is Tested in Yorba Linda, reports that they have been working six and seven days a week with various entities to get ready for El Niño over the past several months.

“Developers around here have been cleaning their drains, getting their streets done, getting their sewers or storm drains ready,” Cravens says. “They were making sure their curbs and gutters were done before El Niño.”

Cravens even increased his staff in order to meet the demands, bringing on more full-time help and part-time assistants as well.

“People have been anticipating what could happen,” he says. “They remember the last time 16 or 17 years ago when we were not prepared.”

Further south, Kevin Post, CEO of Pacific Drain Service in Vista, has ordered an entire pallet of sump pumps, as the local stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and other hardware stores ran completely out of inventory during recent storms. 

“I have networked with property managers and others, letting them know if they get in a bind they can turn to us if they need sump pumps,” Post says.

He adds that when the heavy rains came, they had four jetters and six technicians out cleaning drains. They were booked up for an entire week, and people were willing to pay overtime — anything to get them out.

“We had been educating our customers for six months, ever since they started talking about El Niño, telling them that when it comes, every drain company in San Diego will have a backlog.”

Post doesn’t want to be the guy who promises to take care of customers, but when it starts to rain and there is an emergency and every service company in the area is booked, he believes they will remember his warning that “if there’s a problem with an outside drain system, you don’t want to find out about it in the middle of a storm.”


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