Detroit, MI

Candice Miller on Flooding: ‘We All Knew It Was Coming’ - What About the Next Storm?

Joseph Serwach

Metro Detroit still reeling from flooding
After the floods: The Detroit side of the Grosse Pointe/Detroit border.Photo by Joseph Serwach.

DETROIT —  The Great Lakes Water Authority is expected to appoint former U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins to investigate June and July flooding that damaged more than 23,000 area homes.

The first wave hit June 25–26, and a second wave followed during downpours on July 16.

“The rain was coming — we all knew it was coming,” Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said in a statement. “It appears there was a management failure at the Conner Creek Pump Station. They needed to have it properly manned. They needed to have a backup plan, like a generator if the electricity went out.”

Attorney Paul Doherty has already filed a lawsuit against the Great Lakes Water Authority, stressing the authority has “been on notice for many years that during a heavy rain event that if all 16 pumps of these stations are not fully operational, backup for wastewater is foreseeable and likely, including through (Grosse Pointe Park), which will lead to catastrophic losses to residents and businesses.”

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) argues federal spending covered 60 percent of the area’s infrastructure in the 1970s and dropped to 10 percent by 2014. arguing the region should be spending $5 billion per year on water and road infrastructure to return the region to “good to fair” condition.

Grosse Pointe Woods-based Crowther Carpets and Rugs is getting continual calls from area residents seeking quotes on replacing carpeting and other floorings.

Floods really do lift all boats?

The Wall Street Journal once compared the Grosse Pointe/Detroit border to the “Mason-Dixon line,” dividing the affluent suburbs from the gritty city.

Since the pounding rains and flooding began this summer, both sides of the “line” look very similar: massive piles of garbage bags, old mattresses, and water-soaked junk pile the curbs everywhere.

Grosse Pointers have started posting memes comparing their old city to the canals of Venice, Italy. Shores Councilman Matt Seely posed in a beach chair next to the massive “lake” in his backyard. Why so much flooding?

“We clearly can’t go on like this,” said William Shuster, who chairs Wayne State University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department told Bridge Michigan. “The infrastructure was built for a different time and place, and that’s changed. We are not keeping up.”

A survey organized by Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn found 46 percent of Detroit households have dealt with flooding since 2012, showing clusters of flood-prone areas on the west side, the northeast and lower east side most prone to flooding.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and several professors interviewed by the Detroit Free Press like to cite “climate change.” Others blame a failure to maintain infrastructure over several decades.

But the history of Grosse Pointe and old Detroit shows the flooding issue actually goes back to when the French first settled Michigan starting in 1701. There were no roads then, so everyone needed to be “on the water” to travel via canoe.

Decades-old advice from Grosse Pointe's greatest geologist: Before buying homes review the geology

Art Weinle, the long-time geology teacher at Grosse Pointe North, used to teach students the most important lesson he had to offer: review the geology of any area where you buy a home.

Weinle taught students the Grosse Pointes originally included a great deal of swampland aka wetlands drained decades ago, including the Milk River, encased in sewer pipes to build more people.

The original “ribbon farms” were all quite narrow, about the width of a street, stretching from the waterfront of Lake St. Clair (to the east) to about as far west as Gratiot Avenue. Without roads, the first settlers traveled by water.

For years, a “Michigan basement” meant a basement with a dirt floor. Later, basements had floors of poured concrete, sometimes elevating furnaces and appliances from occasional flooding.

But in the 1970s, upgrading basements into recreation rooms with tile or carpeting became the norm. As Americans buy more and more items, basements also turn into storage areas for vast piles of stuff.

This summer, the lawns of Grosse Pointe and Detroit’s East Side have been filled with garbage bags, old mattresses, and Christmas decorations, all sorts of items previously stored in basements: all destroyed by June and July flooding.

President Biden declared Michigan a disaster area after the flooding, enabling residents and business owners to register online for assistance at or calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362).
Some of the latest debris was still being thrown out Thursday in Grosse Pointe Farms.Photo by Joseph Serwach.

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