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Major upgrades to Grand Rapids sewer system mean cleaner beaches in Grand Haven

Steven Depolo
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

It took almost 30 years and $400 million, but Grand Rapids has finished updating part of its 100-year-old sewer system.

The city’s old system combined stormwater with sewer water, and sent it all to the wastewater treatment plant.

Mayor George Heartwell says it generally worked, until heavy rain hit.

“It puts a stress on the system that overloads it. When it overloads it has to blow pressure someplace,” Heartwell said.

The treatment plant had to "blow pressure" by sending untreated sewage water into the Grand River.

Sometimes that raw sewage prompted beach closings as far downstream as Grand Haven.

“I even remember a little bumper sticker. Maybe I shouldn’t say this,” Heartwell said, cracking a smile at city commissioners, who egged him on.

“It said ‘When it rains in Grand Rapids, ‘S’ happens.” And it was true. But it’s no longer true,” he said.

Now, stormwater runoff is separate. That means heavy rainwater won’t overload the wastewater treatment plant, and it’s less likely “S” will get into the river. 

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Enterprise Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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