Could 'Rock Crispy Treat' Stop Street Flooding? These Mesa Students Think So

By Mariana Dale
Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 3:04pm
Updated: Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 10:15am

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Red Mountain High School students Kyle Kuehne and Zachery Scally
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
Red Mountain High School students Kyle Kuehne and Zachery Scally wanted to reduce flooding by redesigning storm drains.

When Kyle Kuehne had to choose a project for his fourth-year engineering class at Red Mountain High School, he thought about the storms that have flooded his family’s home over the years.  

“We were trying to prevent homes from getting damaged, but then we just realized why can’t we just stop the flooding from happening in the first place?” Keuhne asked.

Kuehne and fellow student Zachery Scally reached out to the city of Mesa.

“The first step was understanding how our system works currently,” Scally said.

Bill McLeod is a City of Mesa Transportation Field Operations Supervisor
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
City of Mesa Transportation Field Operations Supervisor Bill McLeod.

They connected with Bill McLeod through email. He oversees storm drain maintenance in the city.

In Mesa, the roads are graded so that water flows from the middle of the street to gutters, is channeled into storm drains, to retention basins and pumped away from the city.

McLeod explained one of the biggest challenges is trash that slips through the iron grates on the drains.

“It stops our pumps up,” McLeod said. “Circuit breakers will pop, shafts will get burnt up, propellers will get broke and it’s all coming from trash.”

If the students could stop the trash, they might be able to prevent flooding.

Kuehne and Scally’s early designs were fraught with failure.

A brittle concrete prototype crumbled, on a later prototype, the wheels came off (literally).

While it might not feel like it to the students, these failures — and the chance to learn from them — is one of the benefits of the yearlong project. 

“You failed at it, now what can we do to not make it fail this time?” class co-teacher Shane Bycott asks the students.

The students recently tested the grate with a City of Mesa water truck and found it could handle 3.6 gallons of water per second— much more than the average storm in Arizona dumps.
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
The students recently tested the grate with a city of Mesa water truck and found it could handle 3.6 gallons of water per second — much more than the average storm in Arizona dumps.

Other students in the class are working on projects that detect E. coli in water and dampen noise for people with autism. 

“The students are given real opportunity, with real data to make real projects,” Bycott said. 

The students’ most successful storm drain prototype is made with a mixture of small rocks and epoxy. 

It looks like a less appetizing version of a marshmallow treat. 

The “rock crispy treat" is dense enough to block trash. 

A lot of water is able to flow quickly through it and there’s not that much resistance,” Kuehne said.

water flowing the students
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
“A lot of water is able to flow quickly through it and there’s not that much resistance,” Kuehne said of the students' design.

This week, the students successfully tested the grate with a city of Mesa water truck and found it could handle 3.6 gallons of water per second — much more than the average storm in Arizona dumps. 

“I think it’s very neat,” said McLeod, the Mesa employee, who’s worked with the students throughout the year.

“As I look at it more and more I’ve come up with more and more ideas of where it may be used in the future," McLeod said.

The project’s earned awards at high school engineering competitions and an A in the class, though the students are still awaiting their final grades.

Kuehne and Scally both plan to attend Mesa Community College after they graduate this month.

“We’d like to take this project outside of school,” Scally said.  

More Stories From KJZZ

    The students storm drain design is made of rocks and epoxy mixed together like cruncy cereal and melted marshmellows.
    Mariana Dale/KJZZ
    The students storm drain design is made of rocks and epoxy mixed together like crunchy cereal and melted marshmallows.
    Kyle Kuehne and fellow student Zachery Scally
    Mariana Dale/KJZZ
    “We were trying to prevent homes from getting damaged, but then we just realized why can’t we just stop the flooding from happening in the first place?” Kyle Kuehne asked.

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