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New infrastructure strategy meets climate change head-on
September 14, 2023
Recent wind damage and floods in Southeast and Mid-Michigan are the latest examples of increased precipitation patterns and intense storm events courtesy of Michigan’s changing climate.
Flooding from extreme weather is becoming more frequent in Michigan.
Much of Michigan’s current stormwater and wastewater infrastructure is based on outdated pre-1992 rainfall data, and many structures are decades past their intended lifespans. These 20th century systems are no match for 21st century challenges.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) Water Resources Division (WRD) recognizes that there’s no denying the costly impacts of flooding, damaged infrastructure, property loss, and degraded water quality related to climate change.
In 2016, WRD developed a policy to consider climate change adaptation and mitigation in its programs and minimize the detrimental effects of climate change on Michigan’s water resources. Now, WRD has rolled out a plan to factor new climate realities into improved infrastructure for Michigan communities.
A draft of WRD’s Climate Change Implementation Plan is posted online for public comment through Oct. 9, 2023. WRD will review and consider all comments before implementing the plan. Written comments will be accepted through 5 p.m. Oct. 9 by email to Supervisor Christe Alwin, Storm Water Permits Unit, Water Resources Division, at AlwinC@Michigan.gov or by mail to Water Resources Division, P.O. Box 30458, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7958.
The Climate Change Implementation Plan includes:
- Requiring use of the most up-to-date precipitation frequency data available (currently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlas 14 data server) when designing infrastructure and systems to withstand storm impacts. This would apply to Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO), and Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) programs. Several databases in current use are based on outdated standards.
- Support for periodic updates of precipitation estimates to account for trends over time and develop adjustments using future climate model projections.
- Requiring a resiliency factor as part of wet-weather programs. This means requiring stormwater and wastewater infrastructure to be able to manage 10% more than the permitted volume.
- Recommendations for water quality programs to increase awareness of climate change strategies and evaluate best practices for Michigan.
- Recommended best management practices for WRD’s Resources Programs, which include dam safety and inland lakes, streams, and wetlands protection.
- Continued discussions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to address wet weather and climate resiliency for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), and engaging stakeholders to identify opportunities to manage CAFO waste to withstand climate change throughout the 21st century and optimize waste handling during dry conditions.
- Strengthening pretreatment requirements for biosolids to further prevent nonbeneficial contaminants from entering sewerage systems and developing strategies to encourage the recovery of beneficial nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus while improving water quality through reductions in the discharge of such nutrients.
The stakes are high: Among other impacts, Augusts extreme weather dropped more than five inches of rain on metro Detroit in a single storm, closing access to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, endangering public safety, and leading Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of emergency.
Michigan’s MI Healthy Climate Plan explains that if nothing is done, historic levels of rain and severe storms due to climate change will continue to damage property and overwhelm infrastructure. Research shows Michigan already is three degrees warmer and gets about five more inches of rain a year than it did in 1900. Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA) finds annual precipitation up 14% in the Great Lakes region since 1951 and projects that the region will experience a larger increase in total precipitation than most other regions in North America.
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