Why are there Trench Drains in the Desert?

Earlier this year I went to Las Vegas for a conference and a bit of desert hiking. I was surprised to see so much trench drain.

At first, the American Southwest seems an odd place to find trench drain. The land is mostly a wide expanse of desert, the air cool during winter months and scorching during summer but always dry. So why is trench drain so popular?

Find an ACO alternateTrench drains are – oddly enough – vital in the southwest, a region where the land doesn’t absorb water well. Much of the surface is mineral dense, leaving little porosity for water to soak into the ground. This leaves the ground nearly impervious, causing surface water sheet flow during inevitable downpours.

And rainstorms can be fierce. In the Mojave Desert, which lies in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevadas, water can come not only from the storm itself but from mountain runoff. Flash floods are common enough that they have their own road signs to warn drivers of low-lying areas.

Arid regions like California, Nevada and Arizona have smart solutions to runoff. Contractors install large culverts to channel water around roadways safely and to protect the ecosystems in place.

In Las Vegas, where water is in short supply, runoff is routed through more traditional culverts: trench drains. Outdoor sidewalk drains in front of doors keep buildings dry during rain events.

ACO drains, sidewalk trench drains, walkway drains, suspended drains

The drains by Mandalay Bay’s lazy river crossed the sidewalk at a low point. The drains here showed signs of wear.

Las Vegas Sidewalk Drains (2 of 7)Las Vegas Sidewalk Drains (6 of 7)This is an ACO drain with exposed polymer concrete edges and standard slotted iron grates (photo above). You can see the concrete around the drain has worn and cracked in places, undermining the trench drain’s integrity. The channel’s edges have chipped away in areas.  A galvanized or steel edge covering (think Polycast edge protection) could help protect these vulnerable edges from extreme heat and impact of wheel traffic.

Las Vegas Sidewalk Drains (3 of 7)

Las Vegas Sidewalk Drains (5 of 7)Even aquariums have trench drains at the base of their ramps, though I doubt the systems are large enough to save this venomous little lionfish if the glass breaks.

The trench drains at the Shark Reef Aquarium were manufactured by ACO, a familiar face within the industry.

ACO makes a variety of polymer concrete drains that compete in size and function with other manufacturers. This drainage system looks to be a SlabDrain with a standard polymer concrete edge.

Las Vegas Sidewalk Drains (4 of 7)

The grate is made from durable plastic with slots running perpendicular to traffic, a common feature in sidewalk trench drains. Transverse slotted grates are almost always ADA Compliant, meaning they won’t catch wheelchairs, stroller wheels or pose a tripping hazard.

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