How to open a dirt-clogged culvert

Written by jack burton
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How to open a dirt-clogged culvert
A heavy storm can easily overwhelm a partially clogged culvert. (NA/ Images)

Culverts play an important role in allowing water to freely drain from areas prone to flooding. Roads and train tracks pass over them, and many home driveways have a small culvert under them that connects to a drainage ditch on each side. Culverts become clogged with dirt and debris when neglected, and must be cleaned to ensure that the water does not back up and flood an area. There are several ways to clean a driveway culvert without having to call in a professional.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Shovel or other digging tools
  • Lawn tractor
  • Steel pipe
  • Welding equipment
  • Round steel plate
  • Chain

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  1. 1

    Hand-digging a culvert blockage with shovels and hoes is the traditional way to remove it. Unless the culvert is very old, most blockages only go back 2 or 3 feet. This is well within the reach of most long-handled yard tools. Clean the ditch around the blocked end, since most blockages extend from the edge of the culvert. As you remove the dirt and debris, haul it to a dump site where it will not flow down to block another culvert.

  2. 2

    Pull out the blockage with a small yard tractor. Weld a small steel circle that is a few inches smaller than the diameter of the culvert onto a 1-inch steel pipe that is 24 inches longer than the culvert's length. Send the bare end of the pipe into the open end of the culvert until it makes contact with the blockage. Drive the pipe through the blockage by hitting the steel plate with a sledgehammer or maul. If the yard tractor has a flat enough front end, you might be able to use it to push the pipe through. When the pipe appears at the end of the culvert, attach it with chains to the lawn tractor and pull the steel plate though the pipe. As it comes through the pipe, it will push the blockage ahead of it and out of the pipe.

  3. 3

    Ask your volunteer fire brigade --- if you're in a rural area --- if they could stop by with the pumper and wash out the culvert with a high-pressure hose. Offer the fire chief a significant donation to their next fund-raising drive if they would turn the hoses on for a few minutes under the culvert. The water pressure from the hose should be sufficient to clean out all but the most blocked culverts.

  4. 4

    Ask your town council if they have purchased a high pressure water "jetter," which is designed specifically to open clogged culverts. If they have, then follow the procedures for scheduling the use of the equipment to clear out the culvert.

Tips and warnings

  • After a culvert is mostly open, a heavy rainfall is likely to finish clearing the obstruction.

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