Great Lakes Water Authority identifies issue at SE Detroit pump station ahead of flood threat

Utility company urges residents to stay alert as storms approach Metro Detroit

The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is on alert ahead of forecasted showers and storms, which are expected to bring several inches of rain through Thursday. With a potential issue discovered at a local pump station, residents are encouraged to take steps to prevent flooding and protect their valuables.

DETROIT – With several inches of rain expected to fall across Metro Detroit over the next few days, the Great Lakes Water Authority is warning residents to remain alert and be prepared for potential flooding -- especially after an issue was discovered at a local pump station.

Showers and storms are headed for southeastern Michigan Tuesday afternoon and are expected to last through Thursday. A flood watch has been issued for 11 Metro Detroit counties through Thursday morning due to the predicted rainfall.

Forecast: Metro Detroit weather: Flood watch issued with torrential downpours possible

In response, the GLWA on Monday issued a notice that it is ready and has “staffed accordingly” in preparation for the wet weather, while still urging residents to be on “high alert,” as flooding remains a concern. The GLWA operates several pump stations in the area, and provides drinking water and sewer services to several southeastern Michigan counties.

The utility company issued another notice later on Monday, however, stating that a “power-related issue” was identified at the company’s Freud Pump Station, which is located in Southeast Detroit, near the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. Officials said the issue “could possibly impact the number of pumps GLWA can bring online at Freud during the heavy rainfall” that is expected this week.

“Given the complexity of the system’s operations, and the fact that pumps can only be activated during a storm event, diagnosis and troubleshooting can only occur in real-time,” reads a statement from GLWA. “GLWA team members, technicians from our power supply partners, and GLWA contractors are all on-site at the Freud Pump Station and will remain on-site over the next two days to diagnose and troubleshoot issues that may arise from power-related issues detected at Freud by GLWA’s recently installed power quality monitors.”

More: Flood prevention: Steps to mitigate your home’s flood risk ahead of heavy rains

With the impending rain, GLWA officials say staff is on-site at the Freud pump, and on-site support has been requested to help identify the cause of the power issue. Nearby GLWA partners have reportedly been notified that their assistance may be required with flow management, should issues arise at the Freud station amid expected storms.

The utility company was previously chided by local officials and residents for pump station issues that contributed to flooding problems in Metro Detroit earlier this summer. Over the last few months, the region has been hit hard by extreme weather events, several of which have caused flooding on major Metro Detroit roads and freeways, and in and around homes.

At the end of June, when Metro Detroit received 5-7 inches of rain in one weekend, the GLWA’s Conner Creek pump station in Detroit suffered from operational failures that prevented it from pumping water necessary to avoid flooding, according to Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller. That flooding damaged roads, vehicles and homes across the area, and reportedly forced Macomb County to release 96 million gallons of chemically treated sewage to prevent more flooding.

The Michigan Department of Transportation says that its many Metro Detroit pumping stations did not fail during that storm, but rather experienced power outages which kept them from operating properly -- which is a particular cause for concern this week, provided the notice of a power issue GLWA gave Monday.

Officials say Detroit’s pump stations are old -- the Conner Creek pump station is nearly 100 years old -- and they are not designed to handle heavy rainfall like the region has seen this year. While giving Local 4 a tour in August, GLWA officials say this station is not deep enough for modern standards, meaning water from sewer lines underground need to rise almost 80 feet before they can even turn the pumps on -- a long enough wait for neighborhoods and homes to flood.

The Freud station, one of the most important pump stations in Detroit, is smaller than Conner Creek, but is the first line of defense for GLWA’s systems in Detroit. Officials say it is capable of starting up in just five minutes in the event of flooding.

See: An inside look at Conner Creek pump station and why flooding continues in Detroit

Both the Conner Creek and Freud pump stations experienced power issues during the worst storms this summer, which the company has blamed on DTE Energy power outages.

DTE released the following statement:

“DTE has been actively working with GLWA since the end of June and will continue to do so to help them understand the cause of their power quality issues. The source is unknown and may be the result of issues with their own equipment or equipment external to the plant.”

DTE Energy

“It’s not the volume as much as it is the intensity,” said Suzanne Coffey, GLWA interim CEO. “It’s the intensity that’s creating the problem, and the intensity is the change that we’re seeing in the climate.”

Coffey has stepped in after former GLWA CEO Sue McCormick submitted her resignation at the end of July this year, following several major flooding events this summer. In her resignation letter, McCormick said she had been considering retiring for more than a year, but changed her plans when the pandemic struck.

Attorney Ven Johnson, who is representing nearly 400 Wayne County flood victims in a class action lawsuit against the GLWA, said in July that the timing of McCormick’s resignation “clearly points to an acknowledgment of fault for the June 26 floods in Metro Detroit. Her departure provides an opportunity for GLWA to hire a true expert who will be effective in managing the existing infrastructure and push for real investment and change.”

GLWA officials say this week’s predicted rainfall -- which could exceed 6 inches in total -- “may exceed normal design standards for the regional collection system.” Southeast Michigan residents are being encouraged to remove any valuables from their basements, especially those living in low-lying areas.

Click here to read the entire notice from the GLWA.

Weather links

Safety tips during a storm

  • Stay at least 20 feet away from downed power lines and anything they are in contact with, including puddles of water and fences. Keep children and pets away too.
  • Be extremely cautious near metal fences, which conduct electricity, following a severe storm. Electric current will be the strongest where a downed power line is touching a metal fence. Even a connecting fence several backyards away can be energized and dangerous.
  • Never cross yellow barrier tape. It may be around downed power lines.
  • Never drive across downed power lines. If a power line falls on your vehicle, remain inside your car until emergency help arrives.
  • A live power line may spark and whip around as it looks for a ground. A ground is the earth or something touching the earth, like a fence or a tree. A live wire that has found its ground may lie silently, but it is still dangerous. Report a downed power line online, on the DTE Energy Mobile App or call us them at 800-477-4747.
  • Cable or telephone lines can be energized if they come in contact with electrical lines. Contact with any energized power line can be fatal.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.