DWSD invests $500 million over next five years to upgrade city’s water and sewer systems

On the corner of Fullerton and Dexter in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood, Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced a comprehensive neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to begin to upgrade the city’s water and sewer systems through a five-year, $500 million program. Most of Detroit’s water and sewer pipes are more than 80 years old and there has not been a massive infrastructure upgrade since 1930.

The DWSD Capital Improvement Program (CIP) addresses the need to improve water and sewer systems’ reliability. Previously, the department solely used the frequency of water main breaks and water-in-basement complaints to drive the strategy. This led to projects being done across the city without a cohesive plan for a neighborhood. Now, DWSD assesses the condition of the water and sewer infrastructure and develops a plan for rehabilitating those systems, which takes into account other public or private investments to a neighborhood. Factors such as the probability of a failure (breaks, sinkholes, etc.), as well as the consequence of failure (i.e. near a school or hospital, the risk is higher) are also included to prioritize the CIP strategy.

“Four years ago, we announced the creation of the Great Lakes Water Authority to operate the regional system with a $50 million annual lease payment to be used to address our aging infrastructure,” said Mayor Duggan. “Now, Detroiters will see and experience the benefit of the GLWA lease agreement when in front of their house, behind their house or around the corner, they see water mains being replaced, sewer pipes lined, and green storm water infrastructure projects constructed. The team at DWSD is taking a planned, data-based approach to maximize this $500 million program, and we will put Detroiters to work on these projects.”

The DWSD five-year, $500 million CIP is possible due to the $50 million annual lease payment from the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to operate the regional water and sewer systems for the next 40 years, and cash received from improving the department’s collection rate in the past three years, from 77 percent to 94 percent.

In calendar year 2018, DWSD upgraded 25 miles of water main, lined 22 miles of sewer piping and replaced 173 lead service lines. This was the most water and sewer construction in the past 15 years.

DWSD’s CIP is intended to improve the level of service and the quality of life in Detroit by:

  • Reducing water main breaks
  • Reducing street flooding and sewer system failures;
  • Reducing future investment in new Combined Sewer Overflow facilities (wet weather treatment);
  • Increasing acres managed by green storm water infrastructure (GSI);
  • Coordinating with other public and private agencies to maximize dollars invested and minimize disruption from construction activity;
  • Increasing job opportunities for Detroiters; and
  • Upgrading and maintaining facilities, equipment and systems for effective operations.

“We asked our team how do we leverage our capital dollars when DWSD is responsible for 2,700 miles of transmission and distribution water mains and nearly 3,000 miles of sewer collection piping,” said Gary Brown, DWSD director. “We decided to take a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach, starting with assessing the water and sewer systems, then designing an upgrade strategy based upon that data, the probability of failure and the consequence of failure in the pipes.”

In late 2017, DWSD began assessing the water and sewer systems by neighborhood. It started with pilot areas in North Rosedale Park and Cornerstone Village by flushing the hydrants, detecting leaks in the water mains, and placing cameras in the sewer pipes, for instance. The data was used to design water and sewer upgrades for the two neighborhoods where construction will begin this year. These two neighborhoods were chosen because they were identified for improvements in a previous DWSD water and sewer master plan.

Water and sewer condition assessments have since also been completed in Brewster Douglass, Brightmoor, Jefferson Chalmers, Miller Grove, Minock Park, Rosedale Park (south), and Riverdale. The results of the assessments are being reviewed and designs are underway for the infrastructure that needs rehabilitation.

“For the first time in decades, we have leadership at DWSD who are lifelong Detroit residents who identify with what residents are experiencing in the neighborhoods,” said Palencia Mobley, P.E., DWSD deputy director and chief engineer whose team is managing the CIP along with contractor AECOM. “We looked at how we could adapt a neighborhood approach to infrastructure upgrades that is being done by other city departments, and meet our increased requirements to manage storm water. We have discovered so far under this approach that every four miles of assessment, results in approximately one mile of infrastructure replacement or rehabilitation.”

Planned Investment this Year

Active construction contracts for Fiscal Year 2020 starting this July 1, are composed of 29 miles of water system improvements including water main and meter replacements at $38.6 million, 19 miles of sewer lining at $18.8 million and an $8.5 million project on Oakman Boulevard which is water main replacement and GSI between Joy Road and Tireman Avenue. The GSI project will manage approximately 37 million gallons of storm  water annually. There are also several projects in the planning and design phase with the costs estimated at $32 million for the water system and $16 million for sewer system improvements.

Replacing Lead Service Lines

As part of the DWSD CIP, when contractors are on a street to replace a water main, they also replace the lead service line – when it exists – with copper pipe with owner/occupant permission at DWSD’s cost. The service line is the pipe which goes from the water main to the house. When DWSD is replacing the water main, a specialized crew will dig a four-foot by four-foot hole around the stop box (turn-on/off valve) in the front yard of each home to verify the service line material. If there is a lead service line, when the new water main is about to be connected, the crew will return and replace the lead pipe with copper.

DWSD implemented an outreach plan last year in advance of construction projects, and to obtain residents’ permission to replace a lead service line on the property during water main work. This begins a minimum of 40 days from the start of construction and includes door-to-door canvassing, letters, and community and block club meetings.

 Hiring Detroiters

The DWSD Capital Improvement Program Management Organization (CIPMO) has designed a contractor outreach program to engage more Detroit-based contractors and partner with them to hire Detroiters for DWSD work. The office held its first contractor fair in January of this year and will hold another event early in 2020.

Forty-four Detroit residents are working specifically on DWSD CIP contract work awarded to Inland Waters Pollution Control (IWPC). Also, subcontractors have 13 Detroit residents working on this same contract. Additionally, Lakeshore Global and its subcontractors have 11 Detroit residents working on a DWSD water main contract (they employ a total of 43 Detroit residents).

Through the Executive Order 2016-1, DWSD is requesting contractors have at least 51% of the hours worked on its construction projects be performed by Detroiters.

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