DWSD invested $240M in water and sewer upgrades the past two years; outlines 2021-22 projects at an additional $200M

  • DWSD completed 116 miles of water main and sewer replacement/lining in 2019-2020
  • Nearly 1,200 lead service lines were replaced with 100% resident compliance
  • Far West Detroit project to redirect stormwater from the neighborhood through two new green stormwater infrastructure installations in Rouge Park
  • More Detroit-based and minority-owned contractors to be engaged with new equity initiative


DETROIT – Today on Parkland at Rouge Park in the Far West neighborhood, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) officials provided an update on the $240.4M invested in water and sewer upgrades in the past two years. More construction is planned this summer and next year at $203.9M, including a massive project in Far West Detroit. DWSD also announced an equity initiative to put more Detroiters and Detroit-based and black-owned contractors to work on its capital improvement program.


In June 2019, DWSD launched a new data-driven capital improvement program to begin to address the aging water and sewer infrastructure.


“We are undertaking the largest water and sewer upgrade program in more than 80 years,” said DWSD Director Gary Brown. “Water affordability is at the forefront of every decision we make at DWSD. We are performing this work without double-digit rate increases, and in fact, the increases have averaged three percent annually since 2016. And, we are in the process of recruiting a procurement coordinator whose sole purpose will be to engage more Detroit-based and black-owned contractors, whether as a prime contractor leading a project or a subcontractor working on specific areas such as landscaping.”


Progress so far is impactful

Through its $240.4M investment, leveraging the $50M annual lease payment from the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), DWSD and its contractors have:

  • Replaced 66 miles of water main based condition and risk assessments and water main breaks;
  • Replaced 1,155 lead service lines with extensive outreach leading to 100% response rate to replace the private portion;
  • Replaced or lined 50 miles of sewer collection piping to improve sewer capacity based on previous assessments; and
  • Installed 11 bioretention gardens on Oakman Boulevard to improve stormwater management.  


This work has provided improved service delivery of clean water, increased combined sewage capacity and reduced flooding. The projects range from neighborhood-wide water and sewer upgrades in Cornerstone Village in District 4 – which continues – to water main and lead service line replacement on several streets in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 7 to the massive stormwater project on Oakman Boulevard in the Aviation neighborhood which was demonstrated to the media on May 11.  


DWSD is moving across the city and will be in every district based on condition assessments. This spring/summer, water system condition assessments are in 39 neighborhoods starting in District 5.


“We are seeking additional state and federal dollars to accelerate the pace, including through the American Rescue Plan, and will make further announcements when that occurs,” said Brown.


Next generation of Detroit leaders at DWSD

During its capital improvement program update, DWSD shined the light on two lifelong Detroiters who have been working at the department several years and are making an impact across the city.  


David Fielder is the project manager who oversees compliance to Michigan’s revised Lead & Copper Rule. He ensures the lead service line replacement standard operating procedures created by DWSD are adhered to, and the internal teams and contractors have the necessary resources. Teams in the field verify service line material using ArcGIS mobile. Fielder then takes this data to report lead service line inventory and replacement to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy.


Fielder also works with DWSD’s public affairs team to support extensive outreach to residents and businesses prior to coming onto the street to replace the water main and lead service lines. The outreach effort that began in 2018 is being replicated by several other cities across the country.


Richard Winfrey could have moved anywhere in the country after getting his civil engineering degree from Wayne State University. He chose to stay in Detroit and joined DWSD. Most recently he has been working in the sewer engineering section overseeing some of the contracts related to sewer upgrades.  


Winfrey prides himself on reaching out directly to the customers to educate them. One of his many tasks is to work with the sewer inspectors and contractors to inform property owners when DWSD encounters an issue with their private sewer service line and advises them of repairs – more than 30,000 letters have been sent out in the past few years.


“The director and I are passionate about engaging young Detroiters in our efforts to rebuild the water and sewer systems and improve service delivery,” said DWSD Deputy Director & Chief Engineer Palencia Mobley, P.E. “As the next generation of leaders, David and Richard are key members of not only the capital improvement program but the future of our city. With 53 percent of our workforce being Detroit residents, many more are making an impact every day.”


Opportunities rising for Detroiters at DWSD

DWSD will expand partnerships with Detroit at Work and Detroit Training Center to get even more Detroit residents trained for jobs at DWSD, such as field services technician, as well as construction jobs and laborers with water and sewer contractors. All the capital improvement program construction is performed by contractors, while the project management and design is overseen by DWSD employees.


DWSD contractors continue to comply with Mayor Mike Duggan’s Executive Order 2016-1 though DWSD Director Brown believes more can be done to engage Detroiters on the construction projects. DWSD is recruiting a procurement coordinator, solely responsible for assisting Detroit-based and minority-owned contractors through outreach efforts and by connecting them to resources as they prepare to bid on the entire contract or partner with prime contractors to be a subcontractor. The new hire will start by June. 


More water main and lead service line replacements coming

DWSD will replace 50 miles of water main in the next two years, including installing hydrants along the way. It projects 1,500 more lead service lines to be replaced. DWSD is using data from water main breaks and risk assessments – whether near a school or medical facility – and from testing valves and hydrants, checking for leaks and putting cameras in water mains where possible.


Mobley said, “So far under our new approach, every four miles of assessment results in approximately one mile of infrastructure replacement or rehabilitation.”  


While DWSD continues its two-year projects in Cornerstone Village and North Rosedale Park, there are several other neighborhoods slated for work including Evergreen-Lahser, Far West, Jefferson Chalmers, Minock Park, and Virginia Park. The updated list is at www.detroitmi.gov/waterupgrades. 


Lead service line replacement successful due to outreach

In 2018, prior to the revised Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, DWSD began replacing lead service lines while on the same street replacing the water main. Extensive outreach includes neighborhood meetings and an information packet with an agreement for the owner/occupant to sign to allow DWSD to replace the private portion. The packet is delivered door-to-door at least 40 days in advance of construction.


DWSD contractors visually verify the service line material by excavating at the stop box (turn-on/off valve typically near the sidewalk). If a lead pipe exists on the private portion, between the stop box and the house, an appointment for replacement will be made while the contractor is still on the street replacing the water main. The contractor will also replace the city portion if it’s lead. The full replacement is done at DWSD’s expense and a one-year warranty for the property owner is provided. 


Mobley, said, “The most effective and cost efficient method for replacing lead service lines is when we already have crews on the street replacing a water main. Due to DWSD’s extensive community outreach, we have a 100% resident response rate when we offer to replace their portion of a lead service line.”


Sewer upgrades focused on lining existing pipes

DWSD is projecting to replace or line 37 miles of city sewer pipe in the next two years. Where possible, DWSD contractors are using a lining material that is pushed into the sewer pipe through a manhole after the sewer is cleaned. This extends the life of the sewer pipe up to 50 years, helping to reduce street flooding and basement backups. DWSD has a demonstration video here.


The sewer assessments to determine upgrades, which use cameras to see the condition of the pipes, may also identify needed emergency repairs.


“While we are rehabilitating the city sewer, we continually educate the public about their responsibility,” said Mobley. “At least once per year, residents need to clean their sewer service line from the house all the way to the connection at the city sewer pipe, which in most cases is under the alley. If they have recurring backups, we advise them to have a licensed plumber place a camera in their pipe to determine if there are defects that need repair. While doing our inspections, if we encounter issues with the private sewer service pipe, we will inform the customer with images.”


DWSD contractors are in or will be headed to Cornerstone Village, Brewster Douglass and Brewster Homes, Far West, Minock Park, Virginia Park and several other areas listed at www.detroitmi.gov/sewerupgrades.


Reducing combined sewer overflows through stormwater management

This month, DWSD will begin a green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) project which will redirect rain and snowmelt on Berg Road into installations at Charles Wright Academy. The department entered into an agreement with the Detroit Public Schools Community District on this project, which will include STEM-supportive curriculum using the GSI practice as a real-world example. The bulk of the construction will occur this summer.


In its largest project yet, DWSD will redirect stormwater from the streets and catch basins in the Far West Detroit neighborhood (1,700 households) to two detention projects in Rouge Park that filter and retain debris before the clean stormwater is directly discharged into the Rouge River. The estimated five-year, $38 million project will include 25,000 feet of new storm pipe, sewer rehabilitation, downspout disconnection, and water and lead service line replacement. The project is a regional collaboration with GLWA and the Oakland County Evergreen-Farmington Sanitary Drain Drainage District. Construction is to start as early as this fall.  


Both these projects, with details in forthcoming announcements, help DWSD reduce combined sewer overflows and meet its obligation to the National Pollution Elimination Discharge System permit.


About The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) serves more than 230,000 accounts that includes a residential population of nearly 700,000. DWSD’s water system consists of more than 2,700 miles of water main and 30,000-plus fire hydrants, and the combined sewer collection system has nearly 3,000 miles of sewer piping, more than 90,000 catch basins and 16 green stormwater infrastructure projects within the city of Detroit. Beginning in June 2019, DWSD embarked on a five-year, $500 million program to begin to address the aging infrastructure, including replacing lead service lines. To learn more about DWSD or to request water services, make payments, enroll in assistance programs, or report water or sewer emergencies, call DWSD Customer Care at 313-267-8000, use the Improve Detroit mobile app, or visit www.detroitmi.gov/dwsd.