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Upgrading Detroit’s Aging Water and Sewer Systems Is a Work in Progress

Oct 30, 2023


There’s an adage that says, “When it rains it pours.”  Unfortunately, for far too many Detroiters, especially in recent years, when it rains, it not only pours but often causes major flooding on city streets and freeways and water backups in residential basements.  While climate change has been blamed for the increase of eventful rainfalls in Detroit, a major reason for the massive floodings experienced by Detroit residents has been attributed to the City’s aging water and sewer infrastructure, much of which hasn’t been upgraded since the 1930s.

“That’s the big problem,” Gary Brown, Director of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, told the Michigan Chronicle.  “We are seeing these record rainfalls so often for a system that wasn’t built for this volume of rain.  In a 10-year period, we have seen what was supposed to be 50, 100, 1,000-year floods, and the city’s systems just couldn’t manage the stormwater from the intense rainfalls.”

To Brown’s point, a classic example of heavy rain, historic flooding, and the City’s systems that couldn’t handle the massive volume of stormwater occurred on June 25-26 2021, when Detroiters witnessed six inches of rain – the most at one time in 80 years – turning freeways and streets into rivers, while tens of thousands of residential basements received unprecedented levels of water, in some cases mixed with sewage, measuring in feet, not inches.  In essence, the substantial rain falling to the ground moved overwhelmingly faster than city sewers and pumps could handle.

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