Berkley's Regional Sewer Problem

There has been a lot of discussion on the regional sewer problems and what Berkley can do. In this article I break the facts down.

Table of contents

What is the problem? 

We have what is called a combined sewer system. Both storm water and sewage flow into the same pipes. 

When we have a lot of rain in a short period of time, 

These kinds of rainstorms are happening with more frequency, so basement flooding is happening more frequently.

Where does our stormwater and sewage go?

Our water flows into the GWK (12 Towns) drain [link]. This is owned by the Water Resource Commission [confirm].

We are at one end of the drain. Our water flows through Royal Oak then on to Madison Heights where it is processed at [blah blah plant] and discharged into the [blah blah] river. 

Why don't we just make the pipes bigger?

Because it won't solve the problem. 

There has been a map floating around showing many of the pipes in Berkley are undersized. It's accurate.

However, it has been pulled from a report that explicitly states making those pipes larger will not stop flooding during heavy rains. 

[pull quote, give citation with page number]

If you take the map and superimpose on it the homes that reported flooding in 2017 [citation to flooding map], you see there is no correlation between homes that flooded and where we have undersized pipes. 

[superimposed map]

You can see from this diagram the direction of the flow of water [insert]. The bulk of the flooded homes do not connect through the areas with smaller pipes. 

Why don't we separate our stormwater and sewage pipes? 

This is the ideal solution, but it requires regional cooperation for maximal effectiveness, and may be cost prohibitive without outside help [See how would we pay for it below]

However, we have to have somewhere for that water to go. Since we have no open bodies of water, this would have to be be into the GWK drain. We have to have their permission to hook into them and they may say no. There would need to be significant engineering resources look into this to see if this would cause other problems. 

It is possible even without help from the region separating the sewers could help in many parts of the city. But at some point without regional cooperation, the two streams would have to combine in Berkley, and at those combination points the system would still be vulnerable to basement flooding.

And unless we work with our regional partners at WRC, Royal Oak, and Madison Heights, to replace large segments of the GWK drain, stormwater and sewage would still mix together and would not help at the processing plants. 

Why have other city's been able to separate their sewers on their own? 

Find examples. All of those other places have access to open bodies of water. We don't. If we separated our systems, where would the stormwater go?

 It has to go to GWK, and so we need their permission and proof that it wouldn't make things worse.

How would we pay for separating sewers?

Without outside aid, there would have to be an increase in your taxes. 

It would be expensive. Link and narrative on email from Matt, $450k per half mile, 2018. Have to pay for road replacement. We have X miles of sewers. Total cost. 

There are limits in Michigan to how high we can raise taxes and how much money we could borrow. It is possible that these limits are too low to be able to make progress in any reasonable amount of time. If that were the case, we would need direct aid from the County, Region, State, or Federal Government. Likely without outside funding, we would have to significantly raise taxes and drastically decrease services. 

Why is this considered a regional issue?

Others throughout the area suffer the same problems. [insert many links, SEMCOG study] [FEMA]

It is not as like every city leader in the region is negligent on this matter. We are all suffering from the same problems, and all working hard to find solutions. 

Particularly for Berkley, we do not have access to an open body of water, the long term solution of separating our sewers requires working with others in the region. 

Why don't we use money from lead service line replacements to replace sewer lines?

It's been proposed as we comply with state and federal mandates to replace lead service lines, we simultaneously replace sewer lines while the road is open.

Because the locations of line replacements are scattered throughout the city, they may not neatly match where sewers are undersized.

When work is done, they only tear up a small portion of the road. Sometimes the lines can even be replaced without touching the road. Not enough road would be open at any one place to demonstrate a significant cost savings. 

I heard Berkley had a pumping station fail. Is that why we flood?

We have no pumping stations. Everything flows by gravity. This has huge advantages

  • We aren't vulnerable during power failures, and
  • It is cheaper to build, maintain, and operate. 

I've heard the city's sewer pipes are in disrepair and collapsing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. 3 year video inspection rotation. When we do find problems, we fix it right away, like on Catalpa. Aggressive relining campaign which gives sewer lines another 100 years of life. 

Don't new homes and apartments make the problem worse?

Our problems stem not from the amount of sewage flowing into the system, but because of rain water. 

These newer, bigger homes don't have more people living in them. Although the amount of sewage isn't the issue, they don't create more. In fact, our population is now [xxx] down from a high of [yyy] in [YYYY].

New homes are usually larger, and that can result in less soil on the property to absorb water. However, roughly [zzz] new homes are built each year in Berkley. I do not believe that is not enough for it to be a significant contributor to widespread flooding. 

New apartments bring new people, but they also require significant investments in slowing down rain water entering the drains. Thus, a new apartment complex can often help an existing flooding situation. 

What can I do to protect myself?

Backwater valves. Cheapest and fastest solution. Short description of them. My promotion. 

Why doesn't the city just buy backwater valves for everyone?

Because the Michigan State Constitution prohibits it. Why. 

Funds to help low income pay

City look at tax assessment type program to put it on property tax. 

Why didn't the city do anything before?

We have been acting

  • Restrictive covers [link]
  • Increased trees [link]
  • other stuff from past article. 

Because any wide-scale project requires cooperation from our regional partners at WRC [GWK owners], they need to come to the table. Until recent years, they have not been receptive. That has changed recently, and we have started the long overdue conversations.