Detroit to Install Temporary Dams Along River to Prevent Flooding as Great Lakes Levels Rise

The City of Detroit today announced it is expected to begin installing temporary dams the week of March 30 along the Detroit River and canal seawalls as part of a $2 million project to reduce the impact of river flooding and protect the Conner Creek wet weather treatment facility from being overwhelmed. The dam is expected to be completed by May 1.
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Tiger Dam System tube
Detroit is installing temporary dams along the Detroit River and canal seawalls to prevent flooding. // Photo courtesy of the City of Detroit

The City of Detroit today announced it is expected to begin installing temporary dams the week of March 30 along the Detroit River and canal seawalls as part of a $2 million project to reduce the impact of river flooding and protect the Conner Creek wet weather treatment facility from being overwhelmed. The dam is expected to be completed by May 1.

The city is acting now, as Great Lakes water levels are expected to exceed last year’s record.

The construction will take place in the lower eastside, which was overcome by rising water levels last year, to help prevent a repeat this year. The funding was approved by the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners as a preventative measure to protect the city’s combined sewer system from being overwhelmed and preventing pump failure during wet weather. Last year, nearly 7 billion gallons of river and storm water flowed into the treatment facility at Conner Creek. The pumps were not designed to work for 24 hours on multiple days.

The Tiger Dam System, which will be installed, consists of elongated, flexible tubes that can be quickly stacked, joined end to end, and filled with water. The pyramid-shaped structure of stacked tubes forms a barrier to protect structures prior to the onset of a flood. The tubes can be filled with a 2-inch pump, a fire hydrant, or a garden hose. They can be stacked up to a maximum height of 32 feet and linked together for miles. They can also take many shapes. Each tube weighs 65 pounds dry and 6,300 pounds when filled with water.

The tubes are then drained, and the water flows back into the river, creating a reusable system without the need for sandbags. The tubes can be drained within minutes, rolled up, and used again.

Residents were notified of the installation last week and directed to remove any obstacles to in the seawall area. If residents do not comply, the city will remove obstacles and bill the property owner for the cost if necessary.

The city has a combined sewer system, in which the untreated sewage from homes, businesses, and stormwater flow into the same pipe and head to the Water Resource Recovery Facility in southwest Detroit to be treated before discharge into rivers. When it rains, nine wet weather treatment facilities will handle the overflows for Detroit and part of the region, with pre-treatment and storage to reduce the amount of untreated sewage going in the rivers.

“Last year, we had to react to the canal waters flooding streets and property. This year, we are being very proactive to make sure we have protection in place long before the river crests,” says Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. “The Conner Creek wet weather treatment facility serves a large portion of Detroit and several eastside suburban communities. If it were to fail, we potentially would have another public health crisis because the combined sewage would have nowhere else to go but back up into residents’ basements.”

City of Detroit crews, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and subcontractors will complete the installation.

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