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Water: Best Management Practices

Catch Basin Inserts

Minimum Measure: Post-Construction Stormwater Management in New Development and Redevelopment

Subcategory: Filtration


Catch basins, also known as storm drain inlets and curb inlets, are inlets to the storm drain system.  They typically include a grate or curb inlet and a sump to capture sediment, debris, and pollutants.  Catch basins are used in combined sewer overflow (CSO) watersheds to capture floatables and settle some solids, and they act as pretreatment for other treatment practices by capturing large sediments.  The effectiveness of catch basins, their ability to remove sediments and other pollutants, depends on its design (e.g., the size of the sump) and on maintenance procedures to regularly remove accumulated sediments from its sump. 

Inserts designed to remove oil and grease, trash, debris, and sediment can improve the efficiency of catch basins.  Some inserts are designed to drop directly into existing catch basins, while others may require retrofit construction.


Though they are used in drainage systems throughout the United States, many catch basins are not ideally designed for sediment and pollutant capture.  Catch basins are ideally used as pretreatment to another stormwater management practice. Retrofitting existing catch basins may substantially improve their performance. A simple retrofit option is to ensure that all catch basins have a hooded outlet to prevent floatable materials, such as trash and debris, from entering the storm drain system. Catch basin inserts for both new development and retrofits at existing sites may be preferred when available land is limited, as in urbanized areas.


Catch basins have three major limitations:

  • Even ideally designed catch basins cannot remove pollutants as well as structural stormwater management practices, such as wet ponds, sand filters, and stormwater wetlands.
  • Unless frequently maintained, catch basins can become a source of pollutants through resuspension.
  • Catch basins cannot effectively remove soluble pollutants or fine particles.
Siting and Design Considerations

The performance of catch basins is related to the volume in the sump (i.e., the storage in the catch basin below the outlet). Lager et al. (1997) described an "optimal" catch basin sizing criterion, which relates all catch basin dimensions to the diameter of the outlet pipe (D):

  • The diameter of the catch basin should be equal to 4D.
  • The sump depth should be at least 4D. This depth should be increased if cleaning is infrequent or if the area draining to the catch basin has high sediment loads.
  • The top of the outlet pipe should be 1.5 D from the bottom of the inlet to the catch basin.

Catch basins can also be sized to accommodate the volume of sediment that enters the system. Pitt et al.(1997) proposed a sizing criterion based on the concentration of sediment in stormwater runoff. The catch basin is sized, with a factor of safety, to accommodate the annual sediment load in the catch basin sump. This method is preferable where high sediment loads are anticipated, and where the optimal design described above is suspected to provide little treatment.

The basic design should also incorporate a hooded outlet to prevent floatable materials and trash from entering the storm drain system. Adding a screen to the top of the catch basin would not likely improve the performance of catch basins for pollutant removal, but it would help capture trash entering the catch basin (Pitt et al., 1997).

Several varieties of catch basin inserts exist for filtering runoff.  There are two basic catch basin insert varieties. One insert option consists of a series of trays, with the top tray serving as an initial sediment trap, and the underlying trays composed of media filters. Another option uses filter fabric to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff. Yet another option is a plastic box that fits directly into the catch basin.  The box construction is the filtering medium.  Hydrocarbons are removed as the stormwater passes through the box while trash, rubbish, and sediment remain in the box itself as stormwater exits.  These devices have a very small volume, compared to the volume of the catch basin sump, and would typically require very frequent sediment removal. Bench test studies found that a variety of options showed little removal of total suspended solids, partially due to scouring from relatively small (6-month) storm events (ICBIC, 1995).

One design adaptation of the standard catch basin is to incorporate infiltration through the catch basin bottom. Two challenges are associated with this design. The first is potential ground water impacts, and the second is potential clogging, preventing infiltration. Infiltrating catch basins should not be used in commercial or industrial areas, because of possible ground water contamination. While it is difficult to prevent clogging at the bottom of the catch basin, it might be possible to incorporate some pretreatment into the design.

Maintenance Considerations

Typical maintenance of catch basins includes trash removal if a screen or other debris capturing device is used, and removal of sediment using a vactor truck. Operators need to be properly trained in catch basin maintenance. Maintenance should include keeping a log of the amount of sediment collected and the date of removal. Some cities have incorporated the use of GIS systems to track sediment collection and to optimize future catch basin cleaning efforts.

One study (Pitt, 1985) concluded that catch basins can capture sediments up to approximately 60 percent of the sump volume. When sediment fills greater than 60 percent of their volume, catch basins reach steady state. Storm flows can then resuspend sediments trapped in the catch basin, and will bypass treatment. Frequent clean-out can retain the volume in the catch basin sump available for treatment of stormwater flows.

At a minimum, catch basins should be cleaned once or twice per year (Aronson et al., 1993). Two studies suggest that increasing the frequency of maintenance can improve the performance of catch basins, particularly in industrial or commercial areas. One study of 60 catch basins in Alameda County, California, found that increasing the maintenance frequency from once per year to twice per year could increase the total sediment removed by catch basins on an annual basis (Mineart and Singh, 1994). Annual sediment removed per inlet was 54 pounds for annual cleaning, 70 pounds for semi-annual and quarterly cleaning, and 160 pounds for monthly cleaning. For catch basins draining industrial uses, monthly cleaning increased total annual sediment collected to six times the amount collected by annual cleaning (180 pounds versus 30 pounds). These results suggest that, at least for industrial uses, more frequent cleaning of catch basins may improve efficiency. However, the cost of increased operation and maintenance costs needs to be weighed against the improved pollutant removal.

In some regions, it may be difficult to find environmentally acceptable disposal methods for collected sediments. The sediments may not always be land-filled, land-applied, or introduced into the sanitary sewer system due to hazardous waste, pretreatment, or ground water regulations. This is particularly true when catch basins drain runoff from hot spot areas.


What is known about the effectiveness of catch basins is limited to a few studies. Table 1 outlines the results of some of these studies.

Table 1. Pollutant removal of catch basins (percent).









Pitt et al., 1997







Aronson et al., 1983

Only very small storms were monitored in this study.







Mineart and Singh, 1994

Annual load reduction estimated based on concentrations and mass of catch basin sediment.






For Copper:
3-4% (Annual cleaning)
15% (Monthly cleaning)

a TSS=total suspended solids; COD=chemical oxygen demand; BOD=biological oxygen demand; TN=total nitrogen; TP=total phosphorus

Cost Considerations

A typical pre-cast catch basin costs between $2,000 and $3,000. The true pollutant removal cost associated with catch basins, however, is the long-term maintenance cost. A vactor truck, the most common method of catch basin cleaning, costs between $125,000 and $150,000. This initial cost may be high for smaller Phase II communities. However, it may be possible to share a vactor truck with another community. Typical vactor trucks can store between 10 and 15 cubic yards of material, which is enough storage for three to five catch basins with the "optimal" design and an 18-inch inflow pipe. Assuming semi-annual cleaning, and that the vactor truck could be filled and material disposed of twice in one day, one truck would be sufficient to clean between 750 and 1,000 catch basins. Another maintenance cost is the staff time needed to operate the truck. Depending on the regulations within a community, disposal costs of the sediment captured in catch basins may be significant.

Retrofit catch basin inserts range from as little as $400 for a "drop-in" type to as much as $10,000 or more for more elaborate designs. 


AbTech Industries.  2001.  Photo of Catch Basin Insert.  AbTech Industries, Scottsdale, AZ.

Aronson, G., D. Watson, and W. Pisaro. Evaluation of Catch Basin Performance for Urban Stormwater Pollution Control.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. 

Interagency Catch Basin Insert Committee (ICBIC). 1995. Evaluation of Commercially-Available Catch Basin Inserts for the Treatment of Stormwater Runoff from Developed Sites. Seattle, WA.

Lager, J., W. Smith, R. Finn, and E. Finnemore. 1977. Urban Stormwater Management and Technology: Update and Users' Guide. Prepared for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA-600/8-77-014. 313 pp.

Mineart, P., and S. Singh. 1994. Storm Inlet Pilot Study. Alameda County Urban Runoff Clean Water Program, Oakland, CA.

Pitt, R., and P. Bissonnette. 1984. Bellevue Urban Runoff Program Summary Report. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Water Planning Division, Washington, DC.

Pitt, R., M. Lilburn, S. Nix, S.R. Durrans, S. Burian, J. Voorhees, and J. Martinson. 2000. Guidance Manual for Integrated Wet Weather Flow (WWF) Collection and Treatment Systems for Newly Urbanized Areas (New WWF Systems). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Cincinnati, OH.

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