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Water pumps near Detroit failed to work during heavy rains , Great Lakes Water Authority says

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Sishir Buddharaju/WDET
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Officials with the Great Lakes Water Authority say one-third of the system’s water pumps at the Conners Creek and Freud facilities failed to work because of power outages during last weekend’s heavy rainfall.

The malfunctions caused widespread flooding and power outages in Metro Detroit. 

The two facilities have a total of 12 pumps to manage wastewater and stormwater when needed, and four water pumps stopped working because of various electrical failures, officials say. The agency said the Conner's Creek station was down for an hour.

Sue McCormick, Chief Executive Officer of the regional water system, said Friday she does not know what impact that had on the flooding. 

“We get a lot of water really quickly that combines into the sewer system because of the rainwater,” said McCormick. “Understanding that the pumps can only come on in stages, every so many minutes. Could we have kept up with the rain? I can’t answer that, that’s what the after-event analysis will provide us.” 

Speaking on Detroit Today Friday, McCormick said human error was not the cause of the flooding, but rather the size of the storm. “[The stormwater system] was overwhelmed like the systems were overwhelmed everywhere … the system is not designed for storms of this magnitude," McCormick said.

Navid Mehram, the Chief Operating Officer of the Great Lakes Water Authority’s wastewater operating services, said a pair of electricians were available to manage the power outages at the two sites. 

“Our staffing for this station and these events that occur was kind of consistent with what we would do in larger storms,” Mehram said, adding that the water authority made upgrades on a vacuum priming system at Conners Creek that helps start the pumps after floods in 2016. That priming pump sprayed water on a circuit breaker over the weekend, causing power outages that delayed most of the station’s pumps from working. 

“When you have mechanical equipment, failures can occur, even after corrections just because they’re moving parts and mechanical equipment,” he said.

The Freud facility is operated remotely from GLWA’s control center. Officials say an electrical system owned by Detroit’s Public Lighting Authority was not servicing Freud before the storm, and the facility had to use a generator to run at half capacity.  

GLWA is exploring the replacement of the Conners Creek station and upgrades to the Freud station, which could cost a total of $250 million, estimating it will take eight years to complete construction. Both are currently in the design phase. They said the water authority did not lay off employees during the pandemic but is having challenges filling positions.