Flood exposes weak infrastructure

Nic Clark
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On Monday, Detroit experienced its second highest single day of rainfall since 1925.

The rain overloaded local storm drains and left streets and highways in Detroit and surrounding suburbs under water.

Millions of gallons of sewage was forced into rivers and lakes, vehicles and drivers were stranded, homes flooded, and residents had to resort to floating in kayaks and boats to get through the streets.

Was the massive flooding a totally unavoidable accident?


Could we have done something to potentially prevent people from losing their lives and watching as their homes were destroyed?


For example, the city of Trenton neighbors Southgate, yet Trenton residents were largely unaffected by the intense rain, while homes in Southgate were severely damaged.

That’s because many years ago, leaders in Trenton invested in a large drain that was able to contain the rainwater and prevent it from flooding the city.

What happened on Monday is a direct result of extreme weather events caused by both climate change and our elected leaders’ neglect of the infrastructure. We can do something about both.

Climate change is no longer a phenomenon that will impact us in the distant future. Its impact is being felt now. We need to make sure we’re prepared for the effects.

The Environmental Protection Agency introduced a Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution that causes climate change from coal-burning power plants.

Considering that Michigan is home to some of the dirtiest, most polluting coal plants in the entire nation, the EPA’s plan deserves our support.

Meanwhile, as climate change worsens, rainfall will become more intense.

Downpours like what happened in Detroit will strain our aging drainage and wastewater systems unless they are rebuilt.

After periods of heavy rain, storm drain systems become overloaded and are unable to drain all of the water.

Oftentimes the systems release sewage and stormwater into nearby waterways.

These overflows carry bacteria, viruses and untreated waste that threaten people’s health and can harm fish and wildlife directly into our water.

Storm drain systems tend to be out of sight and out of mind for most people, until disasters happen.

But just like we need to fix our pothole-riddled roads, we need to invest in our rapidly aging storm drain infrastructure.

That includes investing in green infrastructure like permeable pavement, rain gardens and green roofs that catch the water where it falls and naturally filter it, rather than allow contaminants to flow over paved surfaces directly into lakes and rivers.

Unfortunately, many communities across the state lack the adequate funds to update and repair their systems.

In his 2011 Special Message, Gov. Rick Snyder said he would direct the appropriate state agencies to plan for sustainable infrastructure solutions.

We have yet to see sustainable solutions put in place.

It’s time for our governor and leaders in the Legislature to face reality and invest in what matters — our safety, homes, and protecting our Great Lakes.

Nic Clark is Michigan director of Clean Water Action.


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