Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Budget increases could improve old sewer systems

Many cities across the state cope with sewer system overflows when heavy rains strike, sometimes getting so overloaded during extreme weather that raw sewage spills into local rivers and streams. It’s a legacy of Michigan’s past, when the best waste engineering was thought to be a combined domestic and storm water load.

But now, with $97 million expected to go towards fixing old sewer systems, some cities might finally get out of the muck. Literally.

After years of steady decline, the Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, is feeling the lift of another funding boost, this one considerably bigger than the slight increases during the past several years. It’s a 19 percent jump from $346.9 to $517 million for next year’s budget starting Oct. 1. And nearly 20 percent will morph into grants and loans for cities fixing old sewage infrastructure.

“In many communities around Michigan the locals have for years recognized that they needed to make improvements to their sewer systems, and for various economic reasons, may have rededicated those maintenance dollars to other, more pressing needs,” said Brad Wurfel, communications director for the DEQ.

So sewage overflows got shifted to the backburner. But with more grants available, more cities can finally do something about it. The extra funding approved by the Legislature is necessary for more grants from the agency, which, as Wurfel says is a great thing.

“What we’re talking about broadly is improving water quality around the state in our rivers, lakes and streams. And that’s huge.”

“It’s a rock-solid budget,” Wurfel added.

Amy Epkey, a budget expert for the department added, “If we don’t address these (problems) early on, it’s just going to increase the long-term cost for those local communities.”

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