Rainfall causes flooding, discharges plunge into waterways

Michigan communities are taking inventory of their sewage systems and water infrastructure, to prepare for and potentially prevent future problems.

Attention is being focused on Michigan’s wastewater infrastructure following several heavy rainfall events this month, that forced local governments to dump hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated water into area waterways.

Thomas McDowell, Senior Environmental Engineer with the Department of Environmental Quality, said local governments are taking stock of their water infrastructure.

“We will require them to take inventory of all their assets, and that includes all sewer pipes, various treatment equipment, then age them and determine their useful life, and then start getting these communities planning for replacement,” he said.

Saginaw is one such city performing an inventory.

Brian Baldwin, acting superintendent of the Saginaw Wastewater Treatment Plant, said the city long ago made the decision to have a combined sewer system – one that carries domestic sewage and stormwater in the same pipes.

“The decision to stay with a combined system was made years ago,” he said. “The city invested about $120 million building the retention treatment basins that we have. We feel like we are doing adequate treatment.”

However, Baldwin said it’s important for cities like Saginaw to complete a full inventory, so they can get a jump on solving potential problems.

Saginaw is one of the cities that discharged partially-treated wastewater into area waterways earlier this month. But he says the discharges met all current environmental standards.

In addition to the inventory effort, McDowell said municipalities, including Bay City, are also re-lining their sewers.

“What that consists of is going through and putting on a harder plastic casing on the inside of sewer pipes,” he said. “That will actually extend the life of those pipes dramatically.”

State officials hope such efforts will prevent future leaks and breaks, and identify potential problem spots in the wastewater infrastructure.