Detroit Water and Sewer Director Gary Brown
Things got nasty late June in Wayne and Washtenaw Counties especially, where the torrential rain and flooding during June 25-26 left thousands of residents with flood damage.
The flooding resulted in damaged vehicles, waist-deep water in their basements, sewage backup, and destroyed valuables and memories.
Detroit Water and Sewer Director Gary Brown said that this storm (he said was described as a 1,000-year storm) was the result of global warming and poor infrastructure, and someone needs to be held accountable.
“We got a tremendous amount of water in a very short period of time,” Brown said of the up to eight inches of water flooding the streets, homes and businesses within a 19-hour timeframe. “Most of that came in three (hours) — we also know there were some pump failures. … We’ll find out what happened. Most importantly, what can you do to make this system more resilient, so it doesn’t happen (again.)”
During a late July interview, Brown spoke with Digital Anchor Andre Ash on the issue of flooding inside Real Times Media’s Studio 1452.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the city’s infrastructure as it relates to underground water piping. We’ve seen the pictures that have been reported over the several weeks of flooding in the City of Detroit,” Ash said, adding that since this issue took place, FEMA has stepped in providing financial support for qualifying flood victims. “Where is the lay of the land right now in your department as it tries to tackle preventing a major flood?
Brown, who sits on the board of directors for the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) said that issues have already been identified including pump failures.
Brown added that there is going to be a study on the flooding issue with the GLWA board soon hiring an engineering firm. He said whatever the answers from the study are will be disclosed in a “transparent” way.
“(We) are going to be very transparent about the outcome of what happened and how it happened, and most importantly how are you going to fix it,” he said. “People have now been flooded three or four times in the last two or three years — they want this fixed, and they deserve to have it fixed.”
Ash asked Brown about the infrastructure problems, global warming issues, and possibly management failure, which one might be to blame more.
Brown said that “there’s a lot of things going on” when it comes to the issue of flooding locally.
“This is the largest municipal utility in North America,” Brown said, adding that “without a doubt” on the sewer side it is “the most complex system in America. “You have pumps that (are) working in parallel or in conjunction with other pumps and it all has to be coming along and operating at the same time.”
Brown also said that “there is no doubt” that the amount of flooding that took place was exasperated because all of the pumps were not working.
Brown said that even if the pumps were working the area “absolutely” still would have been touched by flooding because the system was built 100 years ago and built for a 100-year storm.
“With global warming, clearly the rainfall is more intense, more frequent than what took place 100 years ago, 50 years ago … this was called a 1,000-year storm by many meteorologists. The system is not built to handle that type of rain,” Brown said, adding that some plans could be put in place to fix the problem including a long-range plan, a permanent solution from GLWA to separate the piping that carries today both stormwater when it rains and sewage.
“If it’s more water than the pipe was meant to handle it is going to surcharge into the lowest point, which is someone’s basement,” Brown said, adding that it would take over a decade to fix.
That route would also cost about $17 billion — $8 billion of those dollars would have to be spent in the City of Detroit on assets.
He said raising rates, however, would negatively impact residents who can’t afford that type of increase.
“There is going to have to be dollars allocated from the federal government and at the state level to take care of the long-range plan,” he said.
During a July Detroit Policy Conference, Lt. Garlin Gilchrist echoed a similar sentiment and said that he and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are working at the state level to ensure proper infrastructure dollars are routed to Detroit to prevent future flooding disasters, along with having conversations at the federal level.
“Detroiters understand environmental injustice inherently,” Gilchrist said. “Michigan needs to have targeted investment; we should not be under threat.”
President Joe Biden approved Whitmer’s request for disaster declaration for Wayne and Washtenaw Counties following the record flooding on July 13.
The declaration comes after Whitmer sent a letter to President Biden on July 13 requesting that he declare an emergency disaster for the state of Michigan.
“President Biden’s declaration opens up critical resources to help Michigan residents recover from this disaster,” said Whitmer. “The flooding on June 25-26 had devastating impacts on Wayne and Washtenaw County residents who suffered damage to their homes, loss of personal property, and faced unimaginable stress. With the resources we will receive thanks to President Biden’s leadership, we will put Michiganders first and help our communities recover and rebuild.”
Brown said that there are “four pots of money” he directs residents in their quest for filing a claim to recoup dollars from the flood.
Residents can file a claim through DWSD by emailing detroitmi.gov; file a claim with GLWA by emailing glwater.org; file a claim with their insurance company; or file a claim with FEMA by contacting disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).
Residents and businesses with June flood damage should immediately apply for FEMA reimbursement. Even if you completed the DWSD claim form online or by mail, you still need to apply to FEMA and you can start the process.