Great Lakes Water Authority Unveils 40-year Wastewater Plan

The Great Lakes Water Authority board of directors has adopted a regional Wastewater Master Plan to manage the wastewater system that serves 2.8 million people and spans 15,000 miles of pipes across 79 communities in southeast Michigan.
Great Lakes Water Authority
The Great Lakes Water Authority has adopted a regional 40-year Wastewater Master Plan. // Image courtesy of the Great Lakes Water Authority

The Great Lakes Water Authority board of directors has adopted a regional Wastewater Master Plan to manage the wastewater system that serves 2.8 million people and spans 15,000 miles of pipes across 79 communities in southeast Michigan.

The 40-year plan is the result of collaboration among 100 stakeholders including the authority’s member partners, watershed advocacy groups, regulatory agencies, and others. The plan focuses on water quality and managing affordability through partnerships and collaboration.

“The Wastewater Master Plan is a true demonstration of the spirit of regional collaboration on which GLWA was established,” says Sue F. McCormick, CEO of the authority. “Pipes don’t know where one community ends, and another begins. This new plan is specifically designed to optimize the wastewater system based on need at the lowest cost for the region, as opposed to an individual system approach.

“It offers us tremendous opportunity to leverage the infrastructure the region has invested in to date and identify future investments and improvements that will continue to advance water quality in the region for decades to come.”

The plan takes into consideration public health and safety; preserving natural resources and the environment; maintaining reliable, high-quality service; and assuring the value of investment and contributing to economic prosperity.

In southeast Michigan, wastewater, which includes sanitary and some stormwater, flows throughout 86 separate municipal systems connected to the authority. It is treated at the authority’s Water Resource Recovery Facility, the largest single-site wastewater treatment facility in North America.

Implementation of the plan will occur in three phases: optimizing, adapting and expanding, and sustaining.

Key phase one initiatives, many of which are underway, work to stretch the region’s money by prioritizing investment in lower cost, high-impact projects with the greatest environmental benefit to the system. They include:

  • Launch of a regional operating plan, in which operators from the authority and its member communities use real-time computer technology to see areas where, during intense rainfall and snow melts, there is too much flow in the system and move it to areas with more capacity, reducing the risk of overflows and backups across the region without expensive new infrastructure;
  • Expansion of connectors to the Detroit River Interceptor, a large, deep sewer that collects or intercepts flow from smaller, shallower sewers. This would cost $15 million and redirect 160 million gallons of wastewater to the Water Resource Recovery Facility, preventing it from being discharged untreated into the Detroit River;
  • Formation of a Regional Watershed Hub Workgroup that is bringing the region’s watershed advocacy organizations together with the authority and its member partners to develop a Regional Water Quality Monitoring Program. The program will collect real-time data on water quality in the Rouge, Clinton, and Detroit rivers and Lake St. Clair. The data will be used to determine where system maintenance and upgrades are needed to improve water quality and allow for healthy recreation in rivers and lakes; and
  • Partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department on projects to either remove freeway drainage from the combined sewer system or treat the flow before it is directed to the Detroit River. The most noteworthy collaborations are with the I-94 and I-375 improvement projects, and on the proposed Gordie Howe International Bridge.

“By working together as outlined in the WWMP, we will maintain reliable, high quality service while protecting our natural resources for residents and visitors to the region to enjoy,” says Suzanne Coffey, chief planning officer, for the authority. “Everyone – our member partners and community leaders, no matter how large or small their community is – has a role they can play and a shared responsibility to support and help with the execution. We view this as a truly collaborative and proactive effort to look, find, and fix issues before they become problems.”

The results will be assessed in five-year intervals, with the plan updated and adapted based on progress achieved.

“The GLWA Wastewater Master Plan is truly a collaborative effort, whereby regional leaders worked together to develop an adaptive plan,” says Tim Prince, chief manager for the Oakland County Water Resources commissioner’s office and a key member of the Wastewater Master Plan steering committee. “Regional operating strategies and improvement projects were identified that help preserve the region’s natural resources while utilizing existing wastewater system facilities to their fullest.”

The authority is the provider of drinking water services to nearly 40 percent of Michigan’s population and wastewater services to nearly 30 percent. It has the capacity to extend its services beyond its 88-member partner communities.