By: Briana Carlton
Summary. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a changing climate is likely to increase the frequency of flooding events in the state of Michigan. And while Midwest rainfall has increased 5-10 percent over the last 50 years, rainfall during the four wettest days of the year has increased roughly 35% in the state alone. Recent flooding in the city of Detroit is also consistent with a trend in increasing precipitation as a result of a warming atmosphere and the risk of flooding will remain high due to runoff from impervious surfaces largely characteristic of urban environments. As a result, more money is being allocated to find “green” ways to prevent basements, streets, and freeways in Detroit from flooding during heavy storms. These climate resilient investments include detention ponds, bioswales, rain gardens and permeable pavement. The most current example of this is the construction of a 95-million-gallon storm system in Rouge Park by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to slow combined sewage overflows resulting from extreme weather events. The Great Lakes Water Authority has also invested $750 million in water system improvements over the next five years and the Michigan Department of Transportation is working with the city of Detroit on a plan for freeway and stormwater diversion.
Throughout history, water contamination resulting in diarrheal/gastrointestinal illnesses have been positively associated with overcrowding, poor hygiene, and inadequate sanitation practices. Yet despite the modern water systems in use today – and where regulations and guidelines are enforced to ensure the protection of public health -- an increase in gastrointestinal disease outbreaks paint a very different picture as concerns grow over disease transmission through contaminated recreation and drinking water resulting from aging utilities. A well-designed and properly maintained collection system allows drinking water, storm and wastewater flows to be directed to a treatment facility to receive routine disinfection before discharge. Deferred infrastructure maintenance over time has provided several otherwise avoidable pathways of contamination of the water supply including leaking pipes releasing untreated or partially treated sewage into urban waterways, cracks in septic system tanks that permeate into the groundwater, hydraulic overload due to undersized systems in highly populated communities, and extreme weather -events that turn combined sewer systems (CSSs) into combined sewer overflows (CSOs) – exceeding treatment capabilities prior to discharge directly into surface waters.
Why we should care? Improving Michigan’s primitive infrastructure systems remains a key element in controlling and minimizing the occurrence of waterborne diseases that result in illness and disease.
Precaution has always had quite an intimate relationship with public health, and governments – even everyday citizens are increasingly presented with the challenge of balancing economic interests with environmental justice and protection of human health. Economics aside, the five Great Lakes are an unparalleled freshwater resource providing drinking water to the millions of people surrounding its basins. Improving Michigan’s antiquated infrastructure systems remains the most important component in controlling and minimizing the occurrence of waterborne diseases that result in illness and ensuring safe drinking and recreation water is within reach for the millions of people that depend on it.
Science in Action.
Dr. Janice Beecher is Professor of Public Policy in the Department of Political Science and Director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University.
Dr. Janice Beecher brings more than 30 years of applied research experience to her position as Director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University. Dr. Beecher serves on the U.S. EPA's Environmental Finance Advisory Board and has served as an appointed advisor for infrastructure and water policy in our own state of Michigan. Having read the 21st century Michigan infrastructure commission report myself, it is my opinion that Dr. Beecher plays a critical role by providing management plans for water infrastructure that enables consistent, dependable assessment, maintenance, and reliability of the water quality and infrastructure.