DETROIT (WXYZ) — In June 2021 a storm dumped more than six inches of rain on metro Detroit, leading to flooding in low parts of Wayne County.
When the Great Lakes Water Authority warned rain that started Monday and continued through Tuesday might cause problems because the system was partially full, it caught our attention. Rain events that lead to such warnings are typically in the spring, not January.
“Snow events, but not something like this,” said Navid Mehram, of what is typical this time of year.
Mehram is Chief Operating Officer of Wastewater Operating Services at GLWA. He says they prepared for problems.
“Our team was out. They responded to the rain event and the system operated as designed,” he said.
“The system has been getting overwhelmed, so we have been having slow draining,” said Alexander Samul, a Detroit resident who lives in North Corktown.
Crews were out clearing and rodding a swirling drain near his home after he reported slow draining in recent days. He has had flooding in the past, but, fortunately, the more than 100-year-old city infrastructure near his home is handling the flow. There has not been flooding.
“We have not experienced the same sized flooding, but also many things in our assets changed as well,” said Sam Smalley, Detroit Water & Sewerage Department COO, of why he believes we had fewer problems. “The system was designed to handle 1.7 inches in a one-hour period.”
Smalley says the age of the infrastructure in many parts of the city means that upgrades will continuously be needed and cost billions of dollars as we move into the future.
MDOT projects will in the future help keep rain on interstates from local systems, and the city is applying for grants to upgrade systems to prepare for increased severe rains as the climate changes.
One such project involves a drain under I-75, the construction of which can be seen at I-696 and I-75. It is expected to start moving water from I-75 between 8 and 12 Mile by the end of 2023.
On a more local level, a grant program is allowing the city to help residents in areas prone to flooding improve their own plumbing to protect their property.
“There are multiple programs in play providing backwater valves for customers. We are disconnecting downspouts. We are inspecting their sewer laterals. Get the water out or slow it down,” he’d said.
You can learn more about the programs at https://detroitmi.gov/departments/water-and-sewerage-department/dwsd-resources/basement-backup-and-flood-protection.