Detroit plans 5-year, $500 million investment in water infrastructure | Michigan Radio
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Detroit plans 5-year, $500 million investment in water infrastructure

Jun 27, 2019

The city of Detroit plans to put $500 million into its water and sewer systems, in what officials call the city’s first large-scale upgrade of its water infrastructure since 1930.

The five-year capital improvement project calls for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to replace or re-line more than 50 miles of water mains and sewer collection pipes this year alone. It also calls for more green infrastructure projects to manage storm water.

Water main replacement and other upgrades are already underway in Detroit's Russell Woods neighborhood.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

DWSD Deputy Director Palencia Mobley says the department will use neighborhood-level data on things like the age of pipes, the number of water main breaks, and other factors to determine which areas will be targeted for improvements.

“And after we crunch it out, we get a list of neighborhoods that we should go into and do an assessment,” Mobley said. “So we’re assessing everything first. Once we assess what we find, and analyze that data, then we come up with design plans and construction documents, and we bid those projects out.”

Mobley says that assessments conducted so far indicate that for every four miles of system assessed, about one mile needs replacement or rehabilitation.

Mobley says the department did 50 miles worth of water main and sewer upgrades last year, and determined it had enough capacity for the project. She says this investment will have Detroit updating its water infrastructure at a rate of about 2% per year, which is considered national best practice.

DWSD director Gary Brown says crews will also fully remove and replace lead service lines to homes in neighborhoods where they replace water mains. That includes both the public portion, running from the street to a home, and the private portion on the homeowner’s property.

“We decided that while our contractors are on a street replacing the water main, we will replace the lead service line at DWSD’s cost,” Brown said. “This is our effort to help get the lead out, and meets [Michigan’s] toughest lead and copper rule in the nation.”

Brown says the department can afford the investment because it’s increased collection rates from 77% to 94% in the past three years. DWSD also gets $50 million a year from the Great Lakes Water Authority, which leases the department’s suburban infrastructure as part of a split engineered through Detroit’s bankruptcy process.

Brown says DWSD will have to go to the bond market to raise some funds, but anticipates it should be able to do so easily. While Detroit has been piloting lead service line replacements since last year, he adds the city will need state help in order to fully comply with the state mandate to replace all those lines by 2040. Detroit estimates it has more than 120,000 lead service lines.

The city also pledges to enforce that its contractors use a workforce of at least 51% Detroit residents on the projects.