Detroit to Pump $500M into Water, Sewer Systems Improvements

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department today announced a $500 million comprehensive, neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to begin to upgrade the city’s water and sewer systems. The project is expected to take five years.
Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water main repair
Detroit is investing $500 million in water and sewer system improvements over five years. Above, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department fix a water main. // Photo courtesy of the city of Detroit

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department today announced a $500 million comprehensive, neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to begin to upgrade the city’s water and sewer systems. The project is expected to take five years.

Most of Detroit’s water and sewer pipes are more than 80 years old, and there has not been a massive infrastructure upgrade since 1930. The DWSD Capital Improvement Project addresses the need to improve water and sewer systems’ reliability. Previously, the department solely used the frequency of water main breaks and complaints of water in basements to drive the strategy.

With the project, the department now assesses the condition of the water and sewer infrastructure and develops plans to rehabilitate those systems, taking into account other public or private investments to a neighborhood. Factors such as the probability of failure and consequence of failure are also included to prioritize the strategy.

“Four years ago, we announced the creation of the Great Lakes Water Authority to operate the regional system with a $50 million annual lease payment to be used to address our aging infrastructure,” says Duggan. “Now, Detroiters will see and experience the benefit of the GLWA lease agreement when in front of their house, behind their house or around the corner, they see water mains being replaced, sewer pipes lined, and green stormwater infrastructure projects constructed. The team at DWSD is taking a planned, data-based approach to maximize this $500 million program, and we will put Detroiters to work on these projects.”

The project is due to the $50 million annual lease payment from the authority to operate the regional water and sewer systems for the next 40 years as well as cash received from improving the department’s collection rate from 77 percent to 94 percent over the past three years.

In 2018, DWSD upgraded 25 miles of water main, lined 22 miles of sewer piping, and replaced 173 lead service lines. This was the most water and sewer construction in the past 15 years.

The project will reduce water main breaks, street flooding, sewer system failures, and future investment in new Combines Sewer Overflow facilities (wet weather treatment). It will also increase the acres managed by green stormwater infrastructure, coordinate with public and private agencies to maximize dollars invested and minimize disruption from construction activity, increase job opportunities for residents, and upgrade and maintain facilities, equipment, and systems.

“We asked our team how do we leverage our capital dollars when DWSD is responsible for 2,700 miles of transmission and distribution water mains and nearly 3,000 miles of sewer collection piping?” says Gary Brown, director of DWSD. “We decided to take a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach, 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.”

DWSD began assessing the water and sewer systems by neighborhood in late 2017 by flushing hydrants, detecting leaks in water mains, and placing cameras in sewer pipes in pilot areas in North Rosedale Park and Cornerstone Village. The data was used to design water and sewer upgrades for the two neighborhoods where construction will begin this year. The neighborhoods were chosen because they were identified for improvements in a previous DWSD water and sewer master plan.

Assessments have also since been completed in Brewster Douglass, Brightmoor, Jefferson Chalmers, Miller Grove, Minock Park, Rosedale Park (south), and Riverdale. The results of the assessments are being reviewed, and designs are underway for the infrastructure that needs rehabilitation.

“For the first time in decades, we have leadership at DWSD who are lifelong Detroit residents who identify with what residents are experiencing in the neighborhoods,” says Palencia Mobley, deputy director and chief engineer with DWSD whose team is managing the capital improvement program along with contractor AECOM. “We looked at how we could adapt a neighborhood approach to infrastructure upgrades that is being done by other city departments and meet our increased requirements to manage stormwater. We have discovered so far under this approach that every four miles of assessment results in approximately one mile of infrastructure replacement or rehabilitation.”

Active construction contracts for fiscal year 2020 will start July 1 and include 29 miles of water system improvements including water main and meter replacements at $38.6 million, 19 miles of sewer lining at $18.8 million, and an $8.5 million water main replacement project on Oakman Boulevard. There are also projects in the planning and design phase with costs estimated at $32 million for the water system and $16 million for sewer system improvements.

As part of the project, when contractors replace a water main, they also replace the lead service line that may exist with copper pipe and owner/occupant permission at DWSD’s cost. The service line is the pipe that goes from the water main to the house.

DWSD implemented an outreach plan last year to obtain residents’ permission to replace lead service lines on the property during water main work. This begins a minimum of 40 days from the start of construction and includes door-to-door canvassing, letters, and community and block club meetings.

The DWSD Capital Improvement Program Management Organization (CIPMO) has designed a contractor outreach program to engage more Detroit-based contractors and partner with them to hire Detroiters for DWSD work. The office held its first contractor fair in January of this year and will hold another event early in 2020. Through the Executive Order 2016-1, DWSD is requesting that contractors have at least 51 percent of the hours worked on its construction projects be performed by Detroit residents.

DWSD serves more than 230,000 accounts that includes a residential population of nearly 700,000. Its water network consists of more than 2,700 miles of water main and nearly 3,000 miles of sewer collection piping within the city. To request water services, make payments, or report water problems, call DWSD customer care at (313) 267-8000 or click here.

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