Detroit flooding photo courtesy Detroit Metro Times.
A monster rainstorm on June 26 dumped more than 6 inches of rain on Detroit in about 6 hours. The downpour flooded and closed Interstate-94, stranding motorists in high water, and caused widespread sewage backups in city residences. It is a consequence of climate change and a failure by government to invest in infrastructure, Governor Whitmer declared shortly after the disaster. And she’s right.
“We must focus on climate change mitigation and build resilient infrastructure so we don’t see something like this happen again,” Whitmer said.
The June storm followed by only seven years a previous Detroit record rain of 4.57 inches in a 24-hour period in August 2014.
“We must focus on climate change mitigation and build resilient infrastructure so we don’t see something like this happen again.”
In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned that more frequent heavy rainstorms in Michigan would result from a changing climate. “Changing the climate is likely to increase the frequency of floods in Michigan. Over the last half century, average annual precipitation in most of the Midwest has increased by 5 to 10 percent. But rainfall during the four wettest days of the year has increased about 35 percent. During the next century, spring rainfall and annual precipitation are likely to increase, and severe rainstorms are likely to intensify. Each of these factors will tend to further increase the risk of flooding.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the record June rainstorm—and other storms in recent years—have exceeded the capacity of the city’s combined system for handling stormwater and wastewater. “There is not a community in America that sizes their stormwater system to be able to handle as much rain in one day as you’d have in two months,” added Duggan. “Nobody would build a system that big.”
The storm, which resulted in a major disaster declaration from President Biden, also hit Detroit suburbs and some Washtenaw County communities hard. Additional storms in July caused significant flooding and damage.
A report by the 21st Century Michigan Infrastructure Commission estimated an $800 million annual shortfall in drinking water and sewer infrastructure. Proposals to increase spending on water needs in Michigan, using federal American Rescue Plan funds approved by Congress, are circulating in Lansing. Governor Whitmer has also proposed a Michigan Clean Water Plan using state funds.
“There is not a community in America that sizes their stormwater system to be able to handle as much rain in one day as you’d have in two months.”
While these funds can provide a short-term boost, Michigan will continue to need water investments in coming decades. FLOW’s proposed Public Water, Public Justice Act would create a trust fund to invest in clean water infrastructure not only in Southeast Michigan, but across the Great Lakes State. Rainfall is intensifying in Michigan, and our investment strategy must intensify as well to meet the moment and the future.