Major Grand Rapids sewer project ends, another stormwater project begins

Posted at 6:28 PM, Sep 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-14 18:28:33-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Mayor George Heartwell announced Monday morning that Grand Rapids' combined sewer pipe system is officially gone. It took 27 years to complete the massive Combined Sewer Overflow Project (CSO), but the city is apparently three years ahead of schedule.

"As of today, we can say all combined sewers are separated," Heartwell said. There will be no overflow of human waste into the Grand River."

The $400 million CSO project was created in 1988 with the intent to separate the pipes into two lines; one for the storm water and one for the sanitary sewer. Why? The single pipe would backup with storm water runoff, mix with sewage, and overflow. It would then send human waste into the Grand River and wreak havoc on people's property.

Lawrence Smith, a long-time Grand Rapids resident, remembers the problems.

"The houses was sinking down in the ground where we couldn't hardly open the doors sometimes, and it would be just feces all over the yard once the water goes down," Smith recalled. "So I think [the project's] a really good thing for us."

Heartwell said that while the completion of the projects is good news, the project addressed only half the problem. So the city is kicking off a $1.2 million project to control stormwater and prevent further flooding on city streets and prevent pollutants from going into the Grand River.

Heartwell said it's the largest storm water project in the city's history.

"So, all of the storm water coming off of the streets, coming off of people's lawns with the fertilizers, with the street salt, with petroleum products, all washes into our stormwater system," Heartwell explained, "and it goes out with partial cleaning into the Grand River."

To prevent this runoff, an underground storage facility will be built beneath Mary Waters Park near Lafayette Avenue and Leonard Stree NE. A groundbreaking ceremony took place Monday where Heartwell said the tank will hold as much 720,000 gallons of water at a time. As part of the construction, pipes throughout the city will carry storm water to the tank. The water will then be filtered as it seeps into the soil below instead of going directly from the pipes into the Grand River.

"The programs that we're doing here on site help to manage the water and alleviate the pressure on that system," Kent County drain commissioner William Byl explained. "That's a public safety improvement, because it takes the pressure off very crucial infrastructure that keeps homes and properties safe."

Heartwell said the the storm water control project is expected to take about 10 years to complete.