As SE Michigan rebuilds after flooding, how can the state better prepare for future disasters? 

By: - July 14, 2021 5:43 am

Flood damage in Grosse Pointe Park, July 9, 2021 | Ken Coleman photo

As officials in Michigan are calling for more water infrastructure funding after June flooding ravaged through Southeast Michigan, the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has released a report outlining policy recommendations to improve how states prepare for and handle natural disasters.

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) held a press conference on Tuesday alongside those affected by the recent flooding in Southeast Michigan to call for an infrastructure investment of $1 billion more per year for drinking water and stormwater infrastructure. 

There are overflooded sewers in Detroit, as well as freeway pump stations and basements across the region. Leaders across the state fear Michigan’s stormwater infrastructure, like sewers and freeway pumps, are not prepared to handle future threats. 

Chang said in a statement to the Advance that the lack of water and sewerage infrastructure investments and failure to address climate change have led Michigan to the point of dealing with consistent storms and flooding. 

“Far too many people lost valuables, cherished memories, hot water heaters, furnaces, cars as well as time and money due to the recent floods,” Chang said. “Detroit, our state and our federal government must make these investments if we are going to thrive as a community and become a climate-resilient region for the sake of our residents’ health, financial security, and safety.”

Alexandria Ellis, a resident of Detroit who lost all of her belongings in her basement due to the recent flooding, said it was “one of the most tragic disasters” she’s experienced in her life. She called on local leaders to do the right thing and invest in infrastructure to prevent future crises like the one she is still dealing with. 

“We are tired of having to go through the red tape to get what we need,” Ellis said at the press conference. “When all that has to be done was the right thing to begin with.”

NCSL gave recommendations across four areas, including disaster funding, disaster policy reform, interstate mutual aid, and what the private sector and nonprofits should be doing. The report highly recommends states set up better systems for disaster spending tracking. 

Research by the Pew Charitable Trusts has highlighted that the majority of states do not have a system to track expenditures, since they are often spread across various state agencies and programs. 

Solutions to this that were proposed in the study included state lawmakers forming study committees, holding hearings with the groups in charge of spending disaster funds and/or creating new reporting requirements for expenditure data. 

Another solution proposed by the study is for states to focus on building statewide accounts and rainy day funds for states to put money into when disasters occur. It was found that for every $1 invested in mitigation activities to reduce risk and future disaster losses, states will see a $6 return. 

Outer Drive flooded in Northwest Detroit, May 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

The Michigan State Police, which is charged with Michigan’s natural disaster response, declined to comment directly on the policy recommendations made by the NCSL, but a spokesperson said the department remains “committed to best practices and is supportive of any effort to build community disaster resilience.”

According to Michigan’s 2018 infrastructure report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Michigan received a “D+” rating overall. 

Michigan received a D- rating in stormwater infrastructure due to the state lacking a “systematic approach to inventorying, operating and maintaining our stormwater infrastructure,” as well as few communities throughout the state having funding resources for stormwater systems. 

Michigan also received a D grade in drinking water infrastructure for its “failure to adequately plan for and fund drinking water infrastructure that could lead to major crises affecting millions across the state.”

A report by Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants and 21st Century Infrastructure Commission stated that Michigan system owners are funding their improvements to keep up with the Safe Drinking Water Act by $284 to $563 million each year. 

In order for Michigan to meet its water and wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, the state will need $15 billion according to a recent report by the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition. 

While speaking at a press conference with local leaders about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework last week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan pinpointed that the $579 billion in new spending over the next five years would include $55 billion to improve drinking water and wastewater systems. He highlighted that the funding will especially help to upgrade Michigan’s infrastructure. 

“We see the need to replace and upgrade water infrastructure to revitalize those communities for the next century,” Regan said.


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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.