News Feature | September 10, 2013

'Blue Infrastructure' Could Solve Detroit's Sewage Crisis

By Sara Jerome


Detroit is dumping raw sewage into the Detroit River. 

The city's sewage system cannot handle the volume of water during storms, causing raw and partially-treated sewage to flood the river, according to The Windsor Star

“That’s been going on for decades,” said Derek Coronado of Citizens Environment Alliance.

The Daily Climate called the situation "a crisis" in terms of health and economic factors.

The problem "can expose people who swim or paddle the river to disease-causing bacteria and viruses. The Detroit River also links the upper and lower Great Lakes, so its contamination affects the health of the region's entire watershed," the outlet reported. 

The bankrupt city has little money for repairs, and the cost could be steep, as the experience of other cities has revealed. 

"Grand Rapids, 150 miles west of Detroit, spent two decades and roughly $240 million separating and upgrading its sewage and stormwater drains. The city relied on combined sewers built in the 1800s, until they started separating them in the 1990s," The Daily Climate said. 

Detroit had begun to address its sewage issues, but economic issues got in the way. 

"Due to its poor financial condition, in 2009 Detroit halted work on a large storage tunnel intended to address these overflows," according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes. 

Commentators say one solution for Detroit might be "blue infrastructure," which aims to keep stormwater out of the sewers in the first place. 

"As it might exist one day in Detroit, the blue infrastructure solution would involve a network of retention ponds, rainwater gardens and similar sites to help hold or channel stormwater overflows until the water can be absorbed into flood plains and other natural features," the Detroit Free Press reported

But cost could be prohibitive under this avenue, as well.

"Blue infrastructure won’t happen without a massive commitment from the city and the public. There is, for example, no cost estimate or comprehensive plan of action," the paper said. 

For case studies from Water Online on sewage issues, click here.

Image credit: © 2008 Detroit skyline and river., used under a Creative Commons Attribution license:

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