Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Outlines $200M in 2021-22 Projects

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has invested more than $240 million in water and sewer upgrades in the past two years with more then $200 million planned this summer in city neighborhoods.
Sewer project
DWSD installed 11 bioretention gardens on Oakman Boulevard in Detroit to improve stormwater management. // Photo courtesy of DWSD

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has invested more than $240 million in water and sewer upgrades in the past two years with more than $200 million planned this summer in city neighborhoods.

The department is also planning an equity initiative to put more Detroiters and Detroit-based and Black-owned contractors to work on its capital improvement program.

“We are undertaking the largest water and sewer upgrade program in more than 80 years,” says Gary Brown, DWSD director. “Water affordability is at the forefront of every decision we make at DWSD. We are performing this work without double-digit rate increases, and in fact, the increases have averaged 3 percent annually since 2016.

“And we are in the process of recruiting a procurement coordinator whose sole purpose will be to engage more Detroit-based and Black-owned contractors, whether as a prime contractor leading a project or a subcontractor working on specific areas such as landscaping.”

The DWSD launched a new data-driven capital improvement program in June 2019 to begin to address the aging water and sewer infrastructure. So far, the DWSD and its contractors have:

  • Replaced 66 miles of water main based condition and risk assessments and water main breaks;
  • Replaced 1,155 lead service lines with extensive outreach leading to 100 percent response rate to replace the private portion;
  • Replaced or lined 50 milesof sewer collection piping to improve sewer capacity based on previous assessments; and
  • Installed 11 bioretention gardenson Oakman Boulevard to improve stormwater management.

Brown says the work has provided improved service delivery of clean water, increased combined sewage capacity and reduced flooding. The projects range from neighborhood-wide water and sewer upgrades in Cornerstone Village in District 4 — which continues — to water main and lead service line replacement on several streets in Districts 1, 2, 3, and 7 to the massive stormwater project on Oakman Boulevard in the Aviation neighborhood.

Brown says DWSD is moving across the city and will be in every district based on condition assessments. This spring/summer, water system condition assessments are in 39 neighborhoods starting in District 5.

“We are seeking additional state and federal dollars to accelerate the pace, including through the American Rescue Plan, and will make further announcements when that occurs,” Brown says.

DWSD will expand partnerships with Detroit at Work and Detroit Training Center to get more Detroit residents trained for jobs at DWSD, such as field services technician, as well as construction jobs and laborers with water and sewer contractors. All the capital improvement program construction is performed by contractors, while the project management and design is overseen by DWSD employees.

DWSD contractors continue to comply with Mayor Mike Duggan’s Executive Order though Brown believes more can be done to engage Detroiters on the construction projects. DWSD is recruiting a procurement coordinator, solely responsible for assisting Detroit-based and minority-owned contractors through outreach efforts and by connecting them to resources as they prepare to bid on the entire contract or partner with prime contractors to be a subcontractor. The new hire will start by June.

DWSD will replace 50 miles of water main in the next two years, including installing hydrants along the way. It projects 1,500 more lead service lines to be replaced. DWSD is using data from water main breaks and risk assessments — whether near a school or medical facility — and from testing valves and hydrants, checking for leaks and putting cameras in water mains where possible.

While DWSD continues its two-year projects in Cornerstone Village and North Rosedale Park, there are several other neighborhoods slated for work including Evergreen-Lahser, Far West, Jefferson Chalmers, Minock Park, and Virginia Park. The updated list is at

In 2018, prior to the revised Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, DWSD began replacing lead service lines while on the same street replacing the water main. Extensive outreach includes neighborhood meetings and an information packet with an agreement for the owner/occupant to sign to allow DWSD to replace the private portion. The packet is delivered door-to-door at least 40 days in advance of construction.

DWSD is projecting to replace or line nearly 40 miles of city sewer pipe in the next two years. Where possible, DWSD contractors are using a lining material that is pushed into the sewer pipe through a manhole after the sewer is cleaned. This extends the life of the sewer pipe up to 50 years, helping to reduce street flooding and basement backups.

The sewer assessments to determine upgrades, which use cameras to see the condition of the pipes, may also identify needed emergency repairs.

“While we are rehabilitating the city sewer, we continually educate the public about their responsibility,” says Palencia Mobley, DWSD deputy director and chief engineer. “At least once per year, residents need to clean their sewer service line from the house all the way to the connection at the city sewer pipe, which in most cases is under the alley. If they have recurring backups, we advise them to have a licensed plumber place a camera in their pipe to determine if there are defects that need repair. While doing our inspections, if we encounter issues with the private sewer service pipe, we will inform the customer with images.”

DWSD contractors are in or will be headed to Cornerstone Village, Brewster Douglass and Brewster Homes, Far West, Minock Park, Virginia Park and several other areas listed at

This month, DWSD will begin a green stormwater infrastructure project that will redirect rain and snowmelt on Berg Road into installations at Charles Wright Academy. The department entered into an agreement with the Detroit Public Schools Community District on this project, which will include STEM-supportive curriculum using the GSI practice as a real-world example. The bulk of the construction will occur this summer.

In its largest project yet, DWSD will redirect water from the streets and catch basins in the Far West Detroit neighborhood (1,700 households) to two detention projects in Rouge Park that filter and retain debris before the clean stormwater is directly discharged into the Rouge River. The estimated five-year, $38 million project will include 25,000 feet of new storm pipe, sewer rehabilitation, downspout disconnection, and water and lead service line replacement. The project is a regional collaboration with Great Lakes Water Authority and the Oakland County Evergreen-Farmington Sanitary Drain Drainage District. Construction is to start as early as this fall.

Both these projects, with details in forthcoming announcements, help DWSD reduce combined sewer overflows and meet its obligation to the National Pollution Elimination Discharge System permit.

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