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     Frequently Asked Questions.


    What has the City of Grand Rapids and the Environmental Services Department accomplished?

    The City announced in 2015 that the Environmental Services Department and Engineer’s Office has completed its Sewer Improvement project that eliminated all combined sewer overflow (CSO) points in the sewer system – more than three years ahead of a state-mandated 2019 deadline.


    What are CSOs?

    CSOs are releases of raw or partially treated sewage from older combined sewer systems designed to carry both sanitary sewage and stormwater. CSO events discharge untreated or partially treated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, debris and disease-causing organisms onto the ground or into our rivers, lakes or streams.


    Why is it important for Grand Rapids to have completed the Sewer Improvement project?

    During the 1960s, the dumping by Grand Rapids of as much as 12.6 billion gallons of raw sewage each year into the Grand River sparked a national controversy. Today, the city’s completion of a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system is heralded by industry experts nationally for eliminating 100 percent of sanitary sewer water pollutants from entering the river.


    What were some of the key drivers of the Grand Rapids Sewer Improvment project?

    A number of factors enabled Grand Rapids to become a national leader in CSO control. Primary among these were a citizenry with a strong environmental ethic, a City government prepared to take on this controversial and costly issue, and leadership and political will at the state and local levels to get it done.


    Are CSO discharges a concern beyond Grand Rapids?

    Yes. Releases of raw and partially treated sewage from municipal and privately owned sewer systems is an environmental and public health problem that has plagued Michigan for decades. The State of Michigan took a more ambitious approach to address these discharges in 1988 by initiating an aggressive CSO control program. Local units of government – including the City of Grand Rapids – stepped up to help protect Michigan’s waters.


    How did Grand Rapids fund the Sewer Improvement project?

    Construction on the $400 million project started in 1991 and is financed through ratepayers’ utility bills until 2042.


    Was the Grand Rapids Sewer Improvement project really necessary?

    Yes. Reengineering and digging up City streets over the past three decades to install proper storm and sewage systems was no small feat. The work inconvenienced Grand Rapids residents with, what seemed to be, an unending series of construction projects that interrupted neighborhood routines and traffic flows in order to upgrade an outdated 100-year-old system. However, we can positively say now that it was the right thing to do. The water quality improvements produced by this project are remarkable and are a generational bequest to the Grand River watershed.


    How did the Grand Rapids  Sewer Improvement project plan start?

    Design services for the City’s Sewer Improvement project began in 1987 with the construction of a 30-million-gallon retention basin and then continued with engineering for separation of the City’s combined sewers. At that time, the City’s combined sewers carried approximately 1.96 billion gallons annually and encompassed a more than six-square-mile area. The enormous scope of work included eliminating 59 sewer overflow sites and discharges into the Grand River by separating and replacing storm and sanitary sewers and installing 119 miles of new pipelines. The City completed the first phase of the project on Grand Rapids west side in 1999.


    When and where was the Grand Rapids Sewer Improvement project finished?

    On July 28, 2015, then-Mayor George Heartwell announced crews completed work at the intersection of Washington Street and Lafayette Avenue – the last of the 59 original overflow sites.


    Will the Grand Rapids Sewer Improvement project help prevent local flooding?

    Yes. The project significantly reduced the chance of localized flooding. Grand Rapids looked at the state mandate as an opportunity to invest in rebuilding neighborhoods and business districts while achieving this critical environment outcome. Our Sewer Improvement project has focused on each element of infrastructure that creates quality places.


    How did the City’s Sewer Improvement project embrace innovation?

    As the project evolved over the past three decades, the City Engineer’s Office and ESD worked to incorporate new techniques focusing on green infrastructure and design components into projects. These green techniques often created unique places throughout neighborhoods, such as narrowing existing roadways where possible to increase grass parkways.


    Were rain gardens incorporated into the City’s Sewer Improvement project?

    Yes. Additional green infrastructure improvements made during the Sewer Improvment project included installing rain gardens (bioswales), porous pavement and hydrodynamic separators to remove sediments. The ESD’s public works improvements are decreasing water flows on concrete and asphalt surfaces.


    Who were the public and private stakeholders that successfully partnered on this project?

    Completion of the project ahead of schedule is a tribute to the City’s partners that provided services to the project, including Black & Veatch; Fishbeck Thompson, Carr and Huber-Materials Testing Consultants; and, the great work of our construction industry partners. It is also a testament to City staff, Mayors and City Commissions and the will of Grand Rapids’ residents and ratepayers to see this through.


    What are the City's future priorities to improve Grand Rapids?

    With CSO problems largely solved, the City is turning its attention to better managing stormwater runoff. Research commissioned by the City through Grand Valley State University shows that wastewater and stormwater infrastructure improvements can lead to a 1-5 percent increase in property values.


    Has this work already started?

    Yes. Grand Rapids constructed a $1.2 million underground storage facility at Mary Waters Park in 2015 that will hold 720,000 gallons of stormwater, nearly three times the size of the 270,000-gallon treatment system the City most recently installed at Joe Taylor Park in 2010. The stormwater treatment efforts are part of the Green Grand Rapids initiative that includes preventing contaminated runoff from entering the Grand River.


    Now is the time to focus our energies on developing and implementing proactive policies that will better manage stormwater runoff, eliminate water pollution in Grand Rapids to ensure the well-being of our citizens and preserve the Grand River for future generations.