91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
The Great Lakes region is blessed with an abundance of water. But water quality, affordability, and aging water infrastructure are vulnerabilities that have been ignored for far too long. In this series, members of the Great Lakes News Collaborative, Michigan Public, Bridge Michigan, Great Lakes Now, The Narwhal, and Circle of Blue, explore what it might take to preserve and protect this precious resource. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Urban flooding, a growing problem in Michigan and nationwide, is topic of FEMA summit

A flooded underpass on Greenfield Rd. in Dearborn after the 2021 storm.
Sue Suchyta
 A flooded underpass on Greenfield Rd. in Dearborn after the 2021 storm.

Flooding in urban areas across the U.S. is a growing problem, and a summit in Chicago this week was part of an effort to find solutions.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Urban Flooding Summit brought together experts on that issue, and leaders from cities impacted by more—and more severe—floods.

Detroit is undoubtedly one of those cities, according to Tom Sivak, FEMA administrator for the Great Lakes region. He said summit attendees heard from National Weather Service experts, who discussed how climate change has made bigger, more intense rainstorms more frequent events.

It's happening all over,” Sivak said. “And one of the things that we're finding is that in these flood events, it's 6-9 inch rain events that impact a community.”

Sivak said FEMA is currently accepting applications from southeast and mid-Michigan residents impacted by an August 2023 storm that caused flooding, tornadoes, and extensive damage. As of April 1, the agency had approved $176 million in disaster aid for nearly 66,000 households, which Sivak called “monumental.”

In addition to discussing federal funding opportunities for increasing flood resilience and mitigation, the summit also tapped into the expertise of people already working on this issue on the ground. Among the topics was “natural solutions,” also known as green infrastructure, where cities use landscape design and other means to divert excess water from sewer systems and homes in order to help avoid flooding.

Kimberly Calloway was there from Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department to discuss what that city is doing to protect homes from basement sewage back-ups that tend to happen during intense rainfalls. She heads the city’s Basement Backup Protection Program.

That program is open to homeowners in 11 Detroit neighborhoods that have experienced recurrent flooding. It uses various methods and home upgrades to keep sewage water out of basements, including installing sump pumps, clearing out sewer service lines to homes, and installing backwater valves. That valve is installed where a home’s sewer service line meets the city-owned sewer infrastructure, and is designed in such a way that when triggered by incoming water, seals up and prevents it from entering the sewer line.

Calloway said the program has received thousands of applications, “and we have completed a little over 400 homes. And based on funding, we hope to do 1,000 more,” she said.

Asked if the program is working, Calloway said, “We haven’t had any complaints from the customers.” Detroit is using federal American Rescue Plan money to fund the program, and asked what the city needs to build on its flood prevention and mitigation efforts, Calloway simply said: “We need more funding.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
Related Content