Great Lakes Water Authority Develops Collaboration to Improve Water Quality

The projects mark the first tangible outcome of GLWA’s recently adopted 40-year wastewater management plan

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The Great Lakes Water Authority has announced the first tangible example of regional thinking that has occurred as a result of its recently completed Wastewater Master Plan, a 40-year regional roadmap to proactively and adaptively manage the wastewater system and provide a path to affordability through partnerships and collaborations.

GLWA, Oakland County and the city of Detroit will work together — across municipal and county boundaries — on three projects that will protect public health by reducing wet-weather discharges into regional waterways. 

The collaboration came together during GLWA’s WWMP planning process, as discussions were being conducted about the need for a regional focus on reducing combined sewer and sanitary sewer discharges into our waterways during wet-weather events. 

As a result of the memorandum of understandings among the three entities, the Evergreen-Farmington Sanitary Drain Drainage District — a regional sewer service district that collects sanitary sewage operated by the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner — secures additional wet-weather flow capacity in the regional wastewater system to complete its 30-year plan for improving the water quality of the Rouge River. As a result of this additional capacity, EFSD will not only improve system reliability, but will also avoid the cost of constructing a new wet-weather treatment facility, as well as costs from its long-term operations and maintenance.

To offset this additional flow into the regional wastewater system, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and GLWA will each undertake their own projects.

The DWSD is implementing its Far West Detroit Stormwater Improvement Project which was identified in 2017 as part of its green stormwater infrastructure program. The project will improve sewer flow and capacity by removing stormwater within the right-of-way from the combined sewer  pipes. This will be done by installing sewers that move stormwater through two new green stormwater infrastructure projects in Rouge Park. The filtered stormwater will discharge directly into the Rouge River, rather than flowing to the Water Resource Recovery Facility. As a result, the outcomes are expected to improve DWSD’s service delivery as well as reduce street flooding and the potential for basement backups in the Far West Detroit neighborhood.

The GLWA will accelerate the undertaking of a two-part improvement project at its West Warren combined sewer outfall location in Detroit, ahead of schedule, that will correct wet-weather discharges from this location and bring it into compliance with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The project includes constructing a new diversion weir chamber west of the Rouge River and increasing the size of an existing 18-inch-diameter pipe to a 54-inch pipe east of the Rouge River.

Combined, these projects will prevent an estimated 48 million gallons of wet-weather flow per year from making its way into the Rouge River untreated.

“The MOUs between GLWA, EFSD and DWSD bring to life the regional thinking that was so prominent in our Wastewater Master Plan,” says Suzanne Coffey, chief planning officer for GLWA. “This is truly a unique solution to reduce untreated overflows in Oakland County and in the city of Detroit. This opportunity has rightfully given way to our new motto 'cleaner water, faster and cheaper' and is a direct result of unprecedented regional collaboration.”   

When completed, the three projects will provide environmental benefit, across county lines, for the $68 million total investment. 

”Preserving safe, reliable water, sewer and storm drain systems is extremely important for our region,” says Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash, who serves as chairperson of the drainage district. “We are now thinking differently and working together to protect the public health and natural resources of all our residents. The Evergreen-Farmington Sanitary Drain project is a lasting example of regional collaboration at its finest. The MOU shows that we’re working across county lines to discover a single solution to address multiple regional concerns.”

Ultimately, by coordinating these projects across communities, it allows for a collaborative approach to maximize the investment value, achieving an overall cost savings for the region, providing significant environmental benefit and securing increased system reliability.

DWSD’s project will begin in the summer of this year, following the selection and approval of a contractor. GLWA’s project will start after the completion of DWSD’s project. Oakland County’s project has a planned start of the summer of next year.  

“We have been planning the Far West Detroit Stormwater Improvement Project for three years in an effort to continue our work in reducing untreated combined sewer overflows to our rivers,” says Palencia Mobley, deputy director and chief engineer of DWSD. “The partnership with GLWA and Oakland County is beneficial for the city and region at large. And, like we have been doing the last five years under our current leadership, we will continue engaging and gathering input from the community in all phases of the project.”

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