Sewer Improvement Project

JPG image of combined sewer overflow billboard

In 2015 we completed a Sewer Improvement project. This eliminated all Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) points in the sewer system. Our original, state-mandated deadline was 2019.

Check out the panels below to see how we did this in just over 3 years and for more information about CSOs.

Combined sewer systems carry treated sewage and stormwater. Untreated sewage from older sewer systems can overflow into combined sewer systems. When these overflows happen, we call them Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).

When CSOs happen, the following discharge into the ground, our rivers, lakes or streams:
  • Untreated or partially treated human and industrial waste
  • Toxic materials
  • Debris
  • Disease-causing organisms

CSO discharges are a concern beyond Grand Rapids. These have posed an environmental and public health problem in Michigan for decades. The State of Michigan took an ambitious approach to address these discharges in 1988. They started an aggressive CSO control program. Local governments – including the City of Grand Rapids – stepped up to help protect Michigan’s waters.
In the 1960s, Grand Rapids dumped as much as 12.6 billion gallons of raw sewage into the Grand River each year. This sparked a national controversy.

The Sewer Improvement project began because of:
  • Residents with a strong environmental ethic
  • The City's preparation to take on this controversial and costly issue
  • State and local leadership and political will to get the work done
Construction on this $400 million project started in 1991. Ratepayers' utility bills will continue to finance the project until 2042.

Today, we have a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system. It eliminates 100% of sanitary sewer water pollutants from entering the river.

This project has had environmental, financial and social impacts in Grand Rapids. Check out the figures below.

12.6 billion – Gallons of raw, untreated sewage flowing into the Grand River in 1969

0 – Gallons of raw, untreated sewage flowing into the Grand River in 2014

59 – Number of sewer overflow sites and discharges into the Grand River eliminated by separating and replacing storm and sanitary sewers and installing 119 miles of new pipelines

$400 million – Estimated total cost of Sewer Improvement project

1% to 5% – Estimated increase in Grand Rapids property values due to the City’s sanitary and stormwater infrastructure improvements, according to research commissioned by the City through Grand Valley State University

$2.6 billion – Estimated average annual net environmental benefit from Sewer Improvement project, based on GVSU research

$232 million to $418 million – Estimated average annual net economic benefit from Sewer Improvement project

1,500 – Today, Grand Rapids Wastewater Treatment Plant uses approximately 1,500 kWh/MG to treat wastewater. This is a dramatic improvement that benefits ratepayers. By comparison:

1991 = 32 million kWh and $2.7 million spent per year

2015 = 23 million kWh and $1.9 million spent per year

11,000 – homes electrical use in savings

4,437 – Estimated jobs created directly or retained by Grand Rapids Sewer Improvement project

1,120 – Estimated jobs created indirectly or retained by Grand Rapids Sewer Improvement project

$5.5 billion to $9.6 billion – Estimated economic impact over the lifetime of the project based on spending

1 – Number of dams to be removed due to cleaner water

This project improved water quality for all current and future residents and visitors. At times the construction work was an inconvenience to neighborhood routines and traffic. It was all worthwhile because it upgraded the outdated, 100 year-old system. We now have proper storm and sewage systems.

Green infrastructure improvements

During this project, we also made other green infrastructure improvements. We installed:
  • Rain gardens (bioswales)
  • Porous pavement
  • Hydrodynamic separators to remove sediments
These improvements are decreasing water flows on concrete and asphalt surfaces.

Effect on flooding

This project significantly reduced the chance of localized flooding.
We focused on more than just the environmental outcome. We invested in rebuilding neighborhoods and business districts. This addressed overall quality of place in Grand Rapids.
The CSO problems are largely solved. We're now turning our attention to better managing stormwater runoff. Wastewater and stormwater infrastructure improvements can lead to a 1 - 5% increase in property values. Research commissioned by the City through Grand Valley State University estimated these figures.

This work has already started. We constructed a $1.2 million underground storage facility at Mary Waters Park in 2015. This facility holds 720,000 gallons of stormwater. Compare that to the 270,000-gallon treatment system at Joe Taylor Park. That's nearly three times the size!

The stormwater treatment efforts are part of the Green Grand Rapids initiative. These prevent contaminated runoff from entering the Grand River. We're focusing our energies on developing and implementing proactive policies. These will:
  • Better manage stormwater runoff
  • End water pollution in Grand Rapids to ensure the well-being of our citizens
  • Preserve the Grand River for future generations

We completed this project ahead of schedule through committed partnerships with:

  • Black & Veatch
  • Fishbeck Thompson
  • Carr and Huber-Materials Testing Consultants
  • Our construction industry partners

This wouldn't have been possible without City staff, Mayors and City Commissioners as well as the will of Grand Rapids’ residents and ratepayers to see this through.