Flooded roads, sewage in our waters

Every year, raw sewage spills all across Michigan — in places like Traverse City, Grayling, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Metro Detroit and more — closing beaches and rivers to swimming and fishing for days and weeks.

Metro Detroit residents are becoming all too familiar with heavy rains overwhelming aging sewer systems and pump houses, flooding communities and closing roads and freeways.


Fixing our stormwater and wastewater systems

Comments and findings in the American Society of Civil Engineers-Michigan Chapter “2018 Report Card for Michigan’s Infrastructure” shed light on the state’s stormwater and wastewater infrastructure needs.

Stormwater Infrastructure Systems

  1. “Michigan’s stormwater management system provides flood protection, improves the quality of life for residents, allows our businesses to operate safely and efficiently, provides for safe transportation, improves agricultural production, and extends the service life of roads, streets, and highways.”
  2. “Currently, Michigan lacks a systematic approach to inventorying, operating and maintaining our stormwater infrastructure, and few communities have dedicated funding sources for stormwater systems.”
  3.  “Michigan is far behind its neighbors in the development of enterprise funds (i.e. “utilities”) for municipal stormwater systems. This is largely due to legal precedent (Bolt v Lansing and Jackson County v. City of Jackson) where stormwater utilities have been deemed “illegal taxes” under the Headlee Amendment of Michigan’s Constitution. This has prevented the spread of stormwater utilities in Michigan.”

  4. “Currently, over 1,600 cities in the U.S. have a stormwater utility, while in Michigan, fewer than ten cities have one. Our neighboring states are far ahead of Michigan in establishing funding sources for stormwater: Ohio has 125 cities with a stormwater utility, Wisconsin has over 100, and Indiana has nearly 80.”

Wastewater Infrastructure Systems

  1. “Most wastewater facilities and infrastructure are buried, leading to lower priority of both funding and maintenance. The old cliché out of sight, out of mind is too often the approach to managing wastewater infrastructure.”
  2. “Currently, Michigan has an estimated $800 million annual gap in water and sewer infrastructure needs, compiled from decades of deferred maintenance and a lack of knowledge on the condition of our wastewater-related assets.”
  3. “The total number of basement flooding events, which may also indicate capacity restriction, are occurring more frequently. Tens of thousands of basements flooded in Southeast Michigan during storms on May 26, 2011 and again on August 11, 2014. The frequency of extreme rain events, defined as greater than two inches in a single day, have increased by 89 percent between 1964 and 2013 and brings with it the increased risk of public health and safety concerns due to untreated wastewater discharges.”
  4. “Approximately 30 percent of Michiganders are on septic systems and 130,000 (10 percent) of the State’s 1.3 million septic systems are likely experiencing operational problems.”
  5. “It is estimated that $25 million of state funds should be allocated annually for immediate public health risks and environmental emergencies due to failing wastewater infrastructure and $780 million annually to upkeep failing septic systems that are approaching their 25-year design life.”