Transformational project to capture stormwater, prevent basement flooding nears completion along Oakman Boulevard

  • Mile-long stretch of Oakman Blvd medians being transformed into bioretention gardens
  • New natural system will keep millions of gallons of stormwater annually out of sewer system
  • Detroit-based Blaze Contracting hires dozens of Detroiters to help build $8.6M project

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) today provided a first look at the city’s largest-ever single investment in green stormwater infrastructure to reduce neighborhood flooding and basement backups. An $8.6-million project on Oakman Boulevard in the Aviation Subdivision is transforming the medians on nearly one mile of Oakman between Joy Road and Tireman Avenue into bioretention gardens to capture millions of gallons of stormwater annually that otherwise would flow into storm sewers and potentially back up into area basements.

Although it is not near the river, the Aviation neighborhood has experienced significant street flooding and basement backups – most notably during rainstorms in 2014 and 2016. Mayor Mike Duggan and other city officials made a commitment to the residents that the City would take measures to help protect their homes.

“After the flooding of 2014, we made a promise to the residents of this neighborhood that we would do something to address the basement backups,” said Mayor Duggan. “Today, we are nearing completion on that project, which can be a model for others like it. I’m especially proud of the fact that this is an example of Detroiters rebuilding Detroit, with a black-owned, Detroit-based business as the prime contractor, which has nearly 50 Detroit residents working on this project.”

Major construction is nearly complete–ahead of schedule despite a two-month delayed start due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.


Using nature to reduce flooding
The Oakman project has been designed to take advantage of the medians on the boulevard between Joy and Tireman to manage 37.3 million gallons of stormwater annually. The goal is to reduce street flooding and basement backups in the neighborhood.

Bioretention features look similar to rain gardens on the surface, but underneath are designed and engineered to slowly soak up stormwater. DWSD has and is installing underground boxed-shaped chambers beneath eight of the bioretention areas in the median to temporarily store stormwater and slowly release it to the combined sewer system.  In some locations, DWSD is re-routing catch basin connections to the combined sewer lines to new storm sewer pipes that will flow into the GSI practices in the Oakman Blvd. median.

DWSD Stormwater Mitigation


Detroiters rebuilding Detroit
To build this innovative project, DWSD chose Detroit-based contractor, Blaze Contracting. The contract was approved by the Board of Water Commissioners and Detroit City Council in 2019.

“Four years in the making, we are pleased to work with Blaze to have this massive stormwater project – the largest GSI project in Detroit – to be near major completion,” said DWSD Deputy Director and Chief Engineer Palencia Mobley, P.E. “We have protected the historic neighborhood by using innovation to reduce flooding by using native plantings and other features in the bioretention gardens. While this project will help the City of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department meet our National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit – in our continual reduction of untreated combined sewage discharges during wet weather – what’s important to the residents is they will see a dramatic decrease in flooding during future rain events.”

Blaze also has been using dozens of Detroit residents on the project, as part of the Mayor’s Executive Order on hiring for large municipal projects. In September alone, 48 Detroit residents worked on the project.  

To stay on track with the project timeline, even amid the delayed start due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Blaze and the subcontractors utilized more workers than originally planned in order to catch up. And, the construction workers worked several Saturdays during the summer.

Residents are seeing the medians get the native plantings and other features beginning at Tireman Avenue and going north toward Joy. As each meeting gets near completion, the contractor will resurface the street and eliminate the road construction traffic calming, opening the lanes back up to cars.

Project includes new water mains
The project includes water system upgrades. DWSD replaced older water mains on Oakman Blvd. on both sides between Joy and Manor and between Joy and Appoline that are prone to breaks. The contractor also dug up the water service line curbstop in front of each house to identify whether the line leading to the house is lead, galvanized or copper. There were no lead service lines.

Beginning in 2019, through its capital improvement program, DWSD began combining water and sewer upgrades to more efficiently use resources and reduce the multiple disruptions to the neighborhood, rather than projects taking place separately. This work is also coordinated in advance with other City departments and government agencies in order for streetscapes and road resurfacing, if planned, to be done in conjunction with the DWSD projects and vice versa. In the case of Oakman Blvd., the General Services Department’s Forestry Division has worked with DWSD to include removal or replacement of some unhealthy trees.


Residents had extensive input into project
DWSD had meetings with the community sharing design options for the GSI practices in the medians. The community gave feedback on trees, plantings, and other features during two meetings in 2017. An additional meeting was held in 2018 to show the preliminary designs based on their input. Following contractor selection and legislative approvals, the final pre-construction community meeting was held in February 2020 with DWSD and the contractor at Rippling Hope on Joy Road to share the project plans and construction timeline.

DWSD and the contractor will continue to conduct outreach with the community throughout the project including updates through door hangers, emails, and individual contact.


What is green stormwater infrastructure
The most common method to improve stormwater management is green stormwater infrastructure, or GSI. It replicates natural systems to reduce runoff volume, filter pollutants and cut down on flooding by slowing the movement of water into the City’s combined sewer system, thereby allowing it to soak and be absorbed into the ground. Reducing stormwater runoff with strategically placed GSI projects, such as a bioretention and bioswales, has the added benefit of reducing street flooding.

Prior to this Oakman project, DWSD has installed 16 GSI projects in the past six years, which manage a total of 24.5 million gallons of stormwater annually. View the DWSD GSI projects, videos and manuals at And, view a map of the more than 200 public and private GSI projects on the Detroit Stormwater Hub at


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

Media Contact
Bryan Peckinpaugh
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