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Michiganders would like to hear presidential candidates address the problem of changing weather patterns on aging infrastructure

 Grand Rapids stormwater manager Daniel Taber points at a drain used to  channel rainwater away from the city’s stormwater system
Steve Carmody
Michigan Public
Grand Rapids stormwater manager Daniel Taber points at a drain used to channel rainwater away from the city’s stormwater system

Increasingly severe weather is taking a toll on Michigan’s stormwater systems.

It’s a problem, that those whose job it is to deal with it, say needs attention at the highest level.

Michiganders are talking about what kind of presidential leadership they would like to see when it comes to infrastructure and climate change.

In recent decades, Michigan has seen increasingly powerful storms, dumping larger and larger amounts of rainwater, pushing aging stormwater systems beyond their outdated capacities.

For example, heavy rain inundated parts of southeast Michigan in June 2021, flooding streets and homes for days. At the time, Dearborn Fire Chief Joseph Murray talked about how the rain overwhelmed the city’s stormwater system.

“When you have that amount of rain, no matter what system you have, it’s very difficult for the system to keep up with that,” said Murray.

Dearborn is hardly alone.

In a report last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave Michigan’s stormwater systems a “D”.

“It needs some work,” said Brad Shepler, the vice president with the ASCE’s Michigan branch.

“It needs some work in terms of regulatory issues. It needs work in terms of funding. It needs work in terms of asset management,” said Shepler.

Shepler says the need is in the many billions of dollars and will take many years to address. He says presidential leadership is needed to create a long-term sustainable funding mechanism for the type of infrastructure that only gets noticed when

something goes monumentally wrong.

Gary Belan is the senior director of the Clean Waters program at American Rivers, which a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization focused on protecting and promoting the health of rivers in the U.S. He says increasingly severe weather is

contributing to more pollution passing into Michigan’s rivers and wetlands.

When it comes to upgrading stormwater systems in Michigan, Belan is particularly concerned about the challenges faced by small towns and cities.

“Particularly, if you’re population is smaller than it was 50 years ago when the infrastructure was originally built, it’s a challenge,” said Belan, “That’s why I think we need to have more national leadership on this issue.”

While many Michigan communities struggle just to maintain aging stormwater systems, a few have taken steps, some innovative, to address the problem.

“We took out the buried pipe, and we created a drainage swale…basically a designed ditch if you will…” said Daniel Taber, is pointing at a gully in a downtown Grand Rapids’ park. He’s the city of Grand Rapids’ stormwater manager.

The ditch is part of the city’s attempts to corral and dispose of ever increasing amounts of rain water.

Over the course of nearly four decades, Grand Rapids reconstructed its stormwater system which dated back to the 1800’s. As part of the plan, the city turned to rain gardens and other green infrastructure to reduce the amount of rain water passing through its stormwater system.

Taber says he’d like to see leadership in Washington acknowledge the effect of changing weather patterns.

“Someone that can recognize what us people that are boots-on-the-ground, cleaning the catch basins, designing these systems, what we’re dealing with. So, someone that can acknowledge the changing patterns,” said Taber.

Taber would also like to see greater federal protections for wetlands, along with more financial help for underground infrastructure.

Copyright 2024 Michigan Public. To see more, visit Michigan Public.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005.