Government, Lakeshore, and Sustainability

Commissioners get stormwater update

August 31, 2012
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Members of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council appeared before Grand Rapids city commissioners last week to present the findings of a two-year stakeholder and research project that examined the current condition of the city’s stormwater system and how it’s being managed.

The key findings were that the city needs to improve the management of its stormwater assets, which the report said will require more resources and investment; create an asset management plan for the system; and find equitable and sustainable ways to raise revenue to fund and maintain the planned improvements.

The report noted the city has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to separate the sanitary and stormwater systems over the last two decades, work that has largely eliminated sewage overflows into the Grand River. Even with that, the Clean Water Act still lists the Grand River along with Plaster Creek as impaired waterways.

“Despite the significant work separating and updating the storm and sewer systems, 93 percent of stormwater pipes pre-date the CSO separation, and 164 miles of those pipes are more than 50 years old,” read the report, which can be found at

The report also noted that the city, which is undergoing a transformation of how it delivers services, doesn’t have the revenue to adequately manage the system, mostly because of the effect of the Great Recession and fewer state dollars.

“We simply do not have the manpower to maintain the infrastructure and respond to problems on a complaint or crisis basis,” read the report. “There is no capital asset management plan to prioritize infrastructure maintenance and replacement, and there is no available funding to replace and upgrade the infrastructure to equal the rate at which it is declining.”

WMEAC Communications Director Daniel Schoonmaker pointed out the report called for commissioners to establish a stormwater exploratory group to make recommendations on how to improve and manage the system. He also said the findings suggested the public be educated about the stormwater issue. The report emphasized there currently aren’t any incentives for property owners to curb runoff by installing such things as rain gardens and green roofs that could reduce the cost to control stormwater.

Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said the report represented the first phase of a three-phase effort. Next is creating an asset-management plan, which he indicated would get started this month and be wrapped up in March. The final stage is to come up with potential solutions. “The consideration of potential solutions will follow the completion of the asset-management plan,” he said.

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