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Detroit to invest $500M over five years to upgrade city’s water and sewer systems

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That includes replacing all lead service lines to homes

Mayor Mike Duggan, other officials at a press conference announcing the city’s investment
Aaron Mondry

Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced today that it will make a major investment in overhauling the city’s water and sewer systems. In a press conference in Russell Woods, where work is currently being done to replace a main water line, Mayor Mike Duggan, alongside DWSD President Gary Brown and Deputy Director Pelancia Mobley, said the city would spend $500 million over five years in upgrades.

The bulk of the money will be spent on replacing Detroit’s water and sewer pipes; Mobley said the average age of the city’s water mains is around 90 years old. As the city replaces water mains, it will also replace any lead service lines at no cost to homeowners.

In part, this is being undertaken to get ahead of the state’s revised “Lead and Copper Rule,” which requires taking action if lead levels exceed 15 parts per billion. Brown said Detroit’s levels, at around 4 parts per billion, are safe.

Detroit’s water system has around 2,700 miles of pipes, its sewer system around 3,000 miles—DWSD plans on replacing around 1 to 2 percent of those pipes per year, which Mobley said is much higher than most cities. For 2019, the city has planned 29 miles of water line replacement and 19 miles of sewer line replacement at a cost of $57.4 million.

DWSD will select where to make upgrades based data analysis and overall city planning priorities. “We decided to take a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach,” Brown said, “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.”

The city said it will inform residents of construction by canvassing and other outreach methods at least 40 days prior to start of work.

The investment also includes stormwater management upgrades through installation of grass and other vegetation at strategic locations to reduce pressure on Detroit’s combined system (meaning both stormwater runoff and sewage flow to the same lines). In late May this year, intense flooding took place in Jefferson Chalmers after heavy rainfall combined with historically high water levels in the state’s waterways.

Funding for the projects is possible through the $50 million annual lease payment from the Great Lakes Water Authority for use of Detroit’s water infrastructure, increased collection rates from DWSD, and potential sale of municipal bonds.

Brown said it will not increase water rates to residents to pay for the projects.

The city has also committed to working with Detroit-based contractors and using Detroit residents for over 50 percent of the work hours on these projects.