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Detroit to Test 'Blue Infrastructure'

A Detroit pilot project to divert stormwater to "natural" areas aims to prove the city will save tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in pipeline infrastructure. Editor's note: In the March Park issue LASN presented Milliken State Park in Detroit. The second phase of that park project includes a wetlands demonstration area that showcases nature's water filtration. Collected stormwater passes through a swirl separator to remove suspended solids and contaminants. The stormwater is then pumped into a four-foot deep sediment forebay, then into three-foot deep pools with emergent plants.
Photo: SmithGroupJJR

The concept of "blue infrastructure" refers to allowing natural environments to handle stormwater. In city settings with mostly impervious hardscapes, it means diverting stromwater from the city's sewer and stormwater system into ponds or open fields. By keeping stormwater out of the sewers, cities can save hundreds of millions of dollars by not having to invest in more pipeline infrastructure and the concomitant costs of treating (cleaning) the water before it enters local streams and rivers.

To test that idea in practice, the Detroit Free Press reports the city Motor City is proposing a pilot project on the east side outskirts. In that area, there is one supermarket that is billed more than a $8,000 drainage fee each month by the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD). The runoff mixes with the wastewater in the sewer system; those combined waters have to be treated before being discharged into the Detroit River.

The city has been charging commercial landowners a monthly drainage fee since 2013. Clearly, such onerous charges as the supermarket pays make operating a business in Detroit a losing proposition for many owners, and a disincentive in attracting new business.

Detroit's Economic Development Corp., has spent a reported $162,000 to hire a local engineering company to determine the best means to divert the runoff from the supermarket parking lot to a vacant field a few blocks away, creating something of a "wetlands." Such a plan would require approvals from various agencies, including the EPA. The engineers estimate that diverting the water off the supermarket's hardscape will cost the owner about a tenth of what he's now paying DWSD.

Thus far, "blue infrastructure" in metro Detroit has translated to parking lots with porous paving, and "green alleys" that allow runoff to filter into the ground instead of running into the sewers. Any approved stormwater diverting projects will likely be modest size ponds, wetlands or rain gardens.

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May 19, 2019, 8:27 am PDT

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