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'I am mentally diminished.' Trust in sewer systems eroding after repeat flood issues

Posted at 3:57 PM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 08:54:39-04

(WXYZ) — "I'm frustrated. I am mentally, just mentally diminished. And I don't know what else to do," said Detroit resident Sonya Cook.

Sonya and her daughter Naia had just moved back into their home on Detroit's west side after heavy rains in June caused a sewer backup. And Saturday, it happened again.

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"Did something fail? Did a pump station fail? What happened," asks Sonya.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says it was a lot of water and the ground is saturated. There are reports that last month's sewer backups may be tied to a pumping station for the Great Lakes Water Authority failing after a contractor cut an underground power line. Problem is by now so many people have lost trust in a system vital to their health and their homes.

"What are the citizens in Detroit and the surrounding communities supposed to do? I am on a fixed income. I am back in a hotel. I am at the mercy of individuals that are trying to help me," said Sonya.

A month ago, Sonya and her daughter were overwhelmed with gratitude when Bryon Rocz with Father and Son Restoration in Taylor cleaned and sanitized their basement for free after hearing about their health issues. Rocz even got a number of other contractors to help. But now, after Saturday, everything damaged, al over again.

"What we're seeing and struggling with is getting full transparency from the cities and the counties, who's in charge of, you know, the sewer systems. What is it that can be done? Temporarily? What are we not doing," sais Bryon Rocz of Father and Son Restoration.

And what about the weather? We are seeing incredible amounts of rain.

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"Really, if you just look at the rainfall radar estimates where most of the rain fell, I mean, that's where the intense flooding was. It's tough to say that, 'well, it was better here because the infrastructure is better here.' But I mean, really, the areas that had the massive flooding were also just the areas that had the most amount of rain around metro Detroit," said WXYZ Meteorologist Kevin Jeanes

And perhaps the problem is a perfect storm: extreme weather and an aging infrastructure.

"I am not a plumber... I couldn't even tell you about plumbing or water. But I do know that there is a problem somewhere with the city," said Sonya

"It seems like this has been put on the back burner for a long time. You and now with these changing weather they're more rains, a crumbling infrastructure and outdated system. I mean, we're who knows, I mean, we could be coming here to there, there's gonna be a collapse somewhere and people are not gonna be able to recover from this," said Bryon.

According to the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services, Michigan law allows policies to be cancelled if the insurance company paid out three claims in a three year period totaling at least $4,000.

"It's very important that they figure this out. This situation that is going on now is completely destroying lives. In a minute, I will have nowhere to go nowhere to turn," said Sonya.

A spokesperson for the City of Detroit tells Action News that some of the backups people are seeing are due to issues on their own private property which the city is not responsible for.

The city does not have reports on the number of sewer backups for this most recent rainfall event last Saturday, but in June, we're told 27,000 were reported.

So far, city workers and contractors have investigated 10,000 of those backups and say the majority of them were due to the aging infrastructure that isn't designed to handle that much water in one event.

Part of the problem is that the city has a system that combines sewage and storm water.

This fall, in an area on the city's west side, work will begin to create a system that will separate sewage and storm water and begin to bring relief.

The underground project is extensive and expected to take five years to complete.