Green fixes for old sewers could cut overflows into Detroit River
By Capital News Service • November 5, 2011
By Nick McWherter
LANSING- Outdated storm water treatment facilities in southeast Michigan may find relief in a recent federal grant that will use a variety of green initiatives to lessen the burden on these facilities.
Detroit sewage overflows into the Detroit River, which then flows into Lake Erie. That hurts recreation and wildlife, said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.
The grant will assist in many ways, including analyzing and creating rain gardens, natural vegetation, flood plains and natural swales, and their capabilities throughout the region.
The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments was awarded a $2.8 million “Sustainable Communities” grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. One priority is expanding on green initiatives in the region, said Chuck Hersey, leader of the plan and policy group at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.
Shrinking budgets have contributed to the problem, Clift said. Many of the problems are in the Metro-Detroit area, home to the largest single site wastewater treatment facility in the country.
Metro-Detroit, and its surrounding areas are all tied into the Detroit sewer system, Clift said. “So even though it is owned and operated by the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, it is very much a southeast Michigan regional system.”
Green infrastructure alternatives would rely on the environment to reduce sewer system pressures.
The green infrastructure could include rain gardens, natural swales and flood plains as ways to handle storm water so that it does not overwhelm the treatment plants, Clift said.
Rain gardens use depressions that allow rainwater runoff around urban areas like roofs, parking lots and driveways to be absorbed by natural vegetation. Natural swales are low tracts of land designed to absorb water runoff and flood plains are flat areas of lands located adjacent to riverbanks and help manage rivers and their overflow.
“If you are incorporating green design at the front end, then you will need less conveyance,” Hersey said, “because you are absorbing a lot of it where it falls. It is literally getting it at the front end of the process instead of trying to control things at the back end.”
The regional government group will use $650,000 of the grant to analyze the best areas for these green initiatives, Hersey said.
“We took a huge part from the beginning and dedicated it to getting a green cover analysis,” Hersey said. “The contractor is going to look at aerial photography, give us a baseline inventory of green infrastructure in the region.”
Some areas in southeast Michigan already have green initiatives in place and the analysis will be used to expand on those, capitalizing on its prosperity, said Hersey. He also said he hopes the analysis will help develop a “vision for the region.”
Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will use the analysis to plan and implement projects throughout the region, Hersey said. “Part of what we are going to try to get at is, let’s be more strategic about it, to the extent that we can.”
Storm water treatment facilities get overwhelmed and improving community landscape can assist with many issues. Some feel it also may pay off more in the long run.
“The reason that we have dedicated so much to this is the recognition that a lot of the stuff in the long run is more cost effective, it achieves many goals besides just clean water,” Hersey said. “It is about desirable communities, it is about quality infrastructure, and this is a big first step in recognizing the value in this.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.