Growing our Sewers?

Have you heard that 29% of our sewer system is too small and replacing those pipes will stop basement flooding? Well, that's not the entire story.

The report that this claim is taken from supports the assertion. So why doesn't the city just replace those sections of the pipes?

Also from page 6-7 of the report, doing so would be

  • Costly and disruptive to public,
  • [take a] long time to implement
  • may not eliminate all surcharging for 10-year storm and will not prevent surcharging during extreme rain events, and
  • Cost $39 million to $45 million (City Wide) [2018 dollars].

So, taken out of context, it looks like a quick fix, but it actually results in higher taxes for you with little to no benefit.

In fact, if we look at the homes that flooded in 2017 and overlay it on top of the areas where the pipes are too small, it seems to indicate that if you had larger pipes, you were more prone to flooding!

Was that really the cause? I don't know. And that's the point. That is why the city hires experts to help guide us on these complicated technical issues.

If this was easy and quick to solve, we would have fixed it already. We aren't alone. Our neighbors, the region, much of the country, and much of the world face the same issues. I find it unlikely there is a simple solution that literally the entire world has overlooked.

From page 6-6 of the report:

The City’s sewer system is an intricate, interconnected system, and there is not a single, best solution for all areas... There is no ultimate “fix.” 

I've also heard that there are unclaimed funds the city could be using for sewer improvements, but that simply is not true. No such funds exist yet.

So what has the city done?

  • More restrictive covers were added to help slow the flow of water into the storm system.
  • The city double the budget for new trees which capture storm water before it enters the system. Through grants, we will plant three times more trees than normal this season!
  • I introduced a resolution making reimbursing permit fees for backwater valves permanent and to educate homeowners about them.
  • I have looked for ways for the city to purchase or subsidize backwater valves for every home in the city, but this is very difficult if not impossible under the Michigan constitution.
  • The city is looking at green infrastructure and have started to incorporate these ideas into our codes, for example by allowing permeable pavers instead of concrete.
  • The city encourages diverting rainwater from our sewers through programs such as rain barrels and rain gardens.
  • The city has long required new commercial development to have significant storm water retention capacity.
  • Discussions have been ongoing with our neighbors and regional partners for solutions and those discussions continue.

This is a complex problem that spans climate, engineering, finance, legal, and even constitutional issues. Yes, progress has been slow, but that is merely because of the huge scope of the problem. But we are indeed making progress.