Are pumping stations in Metro Detroit ready for a major rainstorm? Or will freeways flood again?

Clearing drains in your street can help fight flooding

June marks nearly one year since a massive rainstorm dumped several inches of rain down on Metro Detroit.

June marks nearly one year since a massive rainstorm dumped several inches of rain on Metro Detroit.

The day was June 26th. Stormwater quickly added up on area freeways. People driving onto flooded freeways got stuck. Many had to leave their cars in the water and then pay expensive towing bills.

Water flowed into basements area-wide, especially on Detroit’s east side.

View: Dozens of photos, video footage show I-94 flooding in Metro Detroit, cars underwater, messy aftermath

Why freeways flooded that day

The freeways flooded due to freeway pumps not working.

Power was lost during the storm. The pumps run on electricity and have no backup power to keep them pumping when power is lost.

MDOT is responsible for the freeway pumps and Local 4 asked what changes have been made over this past year to keep the pumps running during the next downpour?

Back-up generators would power pumps when DTE power is lost.

“The goal is in the next few years we will have generators at all 141 pump houses,” MDOT spokesperson Diane Cross said.

So, why weren’t generators put in place in the months after the flooding?

“Someone who lost their car on I-94 will be surprised no generators. Why?” Local 4′s Shawn Ley asked.

“They may not realize just what a big deal it is,” Cross said.

MDOT spent this past year working to get $7 million to purchase four generators that will be installed on four freeway pumps by the end of the year. MDOT is then getting more than $60 million in COVID-relief money to outfit all area freeway pumps with generators over the next 4 years.

It’s not a quick fix

Cross says it is not a quick fix. In some cases, MDOT will have to buy land to have a place to put the generator near the pump. Housing for the pumps needs to be built.

The focus right now is to keep storm drains free of debris and be ready to truck in portable generators during the next big storm. However, Cross says freeway flooding is going to happen again.

“We are planning for it. Climate change, we know we are going to get more water, more rain, more runoff. We can increase the chance of having power at a pump station to pull water off the freeway,” Cross said.

Another power problem on Detroit’s east side led to the massive Freud Pumping Station not working at full capacity during the massive storm.

The result was stormwater pouring into basements from the east side, into the Grosse Pointe area, and was starting to flow towards St. Clair Shores.

That pumping station was tied to Detroit Public Lighting.

During the storm, the pump was not getting enough power to pump away stormwater. In the past year, GLWA switched its power source from DPL to DTE.

At the Freud Pumping Station, three massive transformers have been installed with underground wiring connected to multiple DTE power sources.

GLWA says no backup generator is large enough to power the plant and officials are confident that the transformers tied to DTE will supply the station with the power it needs to work, even if the power goes out in the area where the pump is located.

Navid Mehram is GLWA’s Chief Operating Officer. He said GLWA has significantly lowered the risk of the Freud Pumping Station losing power again.

“I can’t predict the future, but the probability is very low now that we are converted with brand new lines in the ground all the way from substations from this location,” Mehram said. “We have generators, but that power is nothing compared to the power needed to run this facility at full capacity.”

MDOT, GLWA and Macomb County Public Works all agree that keeping storm drains clear of litter and debris is key to limiting the amount of flooding on freeways and basements.

Crews area-wide have spent the year clearing drains. They said you can help by clearing drains on your street also.

Read: More Metro Detroit flooding coverage

About the Author:

Local 4 Defender Shawn Ley is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been with Local 4 News for more than a decade.