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Sewer Infrastructure


Currently there are more than 60 publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) permitted in Southeast Michigan. These range in size from treatment capacity of 0.2 million gallons of wastewater per day to 850 million gallons of wastewater per day. These facilities are designed to provide at least the equivalent of secondary treatment for sanitary (dry weather) sewage flows prior to discharge; some are required to provide additional treatment to meet water quality standards. In addition to POTWs, wastewater treatment infrastructure includes numerous small private systems providing service to specific developments and thousands of on-site (septic) disposal systems used by homes and businesses.

Funding for Sewers
The cost of maintaining and replacing aging sewerage infrastructure often exceeds available funding. SEMCOG advocates for rate structures that include necessary upgrading and maintenance. In addition, the true cost of growth to local governments is often hidden because infrastructure costs are frequently spread over the existing rate base, rather than directly funded by new development. Finally, the ability of communities to fund upgrades of aging infrastructure, finance new infrastructure to support growth, and pay for ongoing community services is unlikely without continued state and federal assistance. SEMCOG's report Investing in Southeast Michigan's Quality of Life: Sewer Infrastructure Needs (PDF, 1.8 MB) identifies needs between 2001 and 2030 with the estimated cost of meeting those needs as well as expected available financial resources.  

Regional Clearinghouse Review Committee (RC2)
The RC2 committee consists of local elected officials charged with overseeing SEMCOG’s review and comment responsibility for state and federally assisted projects. These projects consist of:

  • Applications for federal funding for water quality impacts
  • State permits for sewage systems and discharge to ground or surface waters
  • Major land use development plans

When state or federal finds are requested for a sewer project and the area to be served is within the “areas eligible for sewer service funding”, the project is considered consistent with the Water Quality Management Plan for Southeast Michigan and a favorable recommendation for funding is made. If the area is outside the “areas eligible for sewer service funding,” an unfavorable recommendation is given unless the RC2 amends the eligibility boundaries.

Basement Flooding
A court decision in 1998 (CS&P, Inc. v City of Midland) altered the standard applied to municipalities in determining liability for sewer backups. This decision left communities vulnerable to liability regardless of the cause of the flooding.

Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO)
Prior to 1990, the quantity of untreated combined sewage discharged annually to our lakes, rivers, and streams in the Southeast Michigan region was estimated at more than 30 billion gallons per year. In response, $2.4 billion has been committed to projects in Southeast Michigan designed to reduce CSOs and their pollutant discharges. Of this, projects worth over $1 billion are now complete. The remaining commitments are in various stages of construction or design. The result of all completed projects is an 85 percent reduction of untreated CSO discharges and continued improvement in both water quality and quality of life in Southeast Michigan.

These efforts continue to improve water quality and quality of life in the region, according to a new report released by SEMCOG titled Investment in Reducing Combined Sewer Overflows Pays Dividends.

Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSO)
SEMCOG created the Sanitary Sewer Overflow Task Force to address the concerns with pollution being discharged from SSOs and to propose recommendations. As a result, an action strategy was created which proposes a three-step process for implementing an SSO correction program:

  • Assess the nature of the SSO; determine both its cause and its impact.
  • Use this determination to evaluate the applicability of a wide range of available tools to determine an acceptable course of action. 
  • Select and implement the most appropriate tools and incorporate them into an appropriate document.

This strategy led to a series of discussions between local units of government, SEMCOG and the state resulting in Michigan's current SSO policy. Implementing the new policy has put numerous water quality programs into action, which reduce sanitary sewer overflows.

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is the third largest water and sewer utility in the United States. It provides sewer service to 78 communities and drinking water to 125 communities in Southeast Michigan.

SEMCOG's involvement with DWSD focuses on full disclosure and the rate setting process. As a result, DWSD annually holds early meetings with both its water and sewer customers to discuss its rate setting procedures. Please check the DWSD FY 2012-2013 Rate Season Schedule for currently scheduled meetings.

DWSD recently prepared a 50-year Wastewater Master Plan. SEMCOG actively participated on various technical and steering committees and continues to work with DWSD to ensure member government issues and concerns are addressed during implementation of the Wastewater Master Plan.

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