From the Headlines – July 12-16, 2021

Disaster declared: President Joe Biden granted Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request for a major disaster declaration on Thursday in response to last month’s flooding. The move will make federal funding available to Washtenaw and Wayne counties residents, including money for home repairs and temporary housing, low-cost loans for uninsured property loss, and other assistance. “It is noteworthy that the damages identified for Wayne County alone almost exceeded the damages identified for the three-county flood disaster area of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne that received the major disaster declaration (by FEMA) in 2014,” Whitmer wrote in a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those seeking help can go to or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Those with speech or hearing impairment can call 1-800-462-7585 (TTY). (Detroit News)

10 billion gallons of sewage: A massive amount of sewage overflowed into Michigan waterways following the storms and flooding of June 26. Much of this was untreated sewage–including human waste–that mixed with rainwater and either overwhelmed sewers or was diverted by officials to prevent further damage to homes. How much fetid, crap-laden water are we talking about here? The Detroit News informs us that it was enough to fill the 73-story Renaissance Center more than 65 times. The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) was responsible for the majority of the overflows, discharging roughly 7.4 billion gallons. The sewage and fertilizer washed into waterways from these events contribute to several problems, including toxic algal blooms like the one that shut down Toledo’s drinking water supply in 2014. (Detroit News, NPR)

Help: The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has signed contracts with companies to assist residents who need help cleaning and sanitizing their basements following last month’s storms. Residents must have a property tax exemption and either be over 65, have a disability, or have children under 10 in the household to be eligible. Officials estimate that it will take three months to complete these cleanups. Detroit gave landlords notice that they must repair flood damage in their properties by July 20 or face fines of $250 a day. DWSD says more than 24,000 households have submitted claims for damages. (Detroit News)

Rising risk:  A new study that measures flood risk for every parcel in the country estimates that 6% of Wayne County’s properties, or 46,609 properties, are at risk of flooding. And that number will likely go up as FEMA redraws its floodplain maps, which are currently based on data from the 1980s. Many Detroiters do not have flood insurance– it is a requirement only in properties with federally backed mortgages. And the amount in premiums paid from those who can afford it is likely inadequate to cover costs. (Freep, Bridge)

Anger in Dearborn: Dearborn residents packed a city council meeting this week to express their anger with city officials for failing to protect them from the flooding that inundated as many as 8,000 homes. Dearborn Mayor Jack O’ Reilly Jr. was in attendance but did not talk. In a statement, he referenced an unspecified health issue that kept him from speaking in public. Residents raised concerns about O’Reilly’s ability to lead, citing a deposition from a 2019 lawsuit that said the mayor had memory issues.  The meeting follows several protests by residents who complain of multiple floods in the last decade and say they want compensation for damages. Residents of the heavily impacted areas in the south and east ends of the city say their neighborhoods have been neglected. They have received less compensation than other neighborhoods following floods. Many residents in these areas are Yemeni-Americans, who note there are currently no city council members of Yemeni descent. (Freep)

Where the money goes: In still more flooding news, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) plans to spend $27 million to rehabilitate pump stations and try and prevent the inundation of freeways in metro Detroit that damaged or destroyed hundreds of cars during recent flooding. This comes on top of $25 million spent on pump stations in the last four years. A proposal to install generators to prevent the power failures at pump stations could cost an additional $50 million. And experts say that still more money may be needed to address roadway flooding in southeast Michigan on account of the area’s low-lying, swampy topography.  Other proposals include raising roadways, installing underground retention tunnels, and adding rain gardens to sequester stormwater. (Detroit News)

Detroit’s new jail: The new Wayne County Criminal Justice Center is set to go up next to the site of the closed trash incinerator, near the junction of I-75 and I-94. Detroit Renewable Energy–which operated the incinerator–is no longer burning garbage. However, the site is still used as a transfer station for thousands of tons of trash a day, producing odors and possibly harmful emissions. The area is also home to a US Ecology facility that also produces strong odors. Collectively, these pollution sources could impact incarcerated individuals in the new jail, which is being funded by Quicken Loans co-founder Dan Gilbert and constructed by his company Bedrock. This arrangement came as part of a deal with Gilbert where he took over the 13-acre, downtown site of the county’s half-completed “fail jail.” (Grist)

Bugged: Drought conditions followed by heavy rains have created an itchy situation in Michigan. Edward Walker, a professor of entomology at MSU, says the weather has spawned many summer floodwater mosquitoes. The female floodwater mosquitoes lay their eggs in low-lying, grassy spots–which can build up over time–hatching when water pools in these areas. Hence the onslaught of bugs following the rainstorms and flooding of the last month. “I can’t put my finger on the exact number of mosquitoes we have right now. That would just be an enormous number,” Walker said. “But we went from virtually no mosquitoes, at least of this kind, the pest kind, to a huge population in a very short period of time.” Further rainfall could spawn even more mosquitoes. (Bridge)

What to do: This summer’s heatwaves, forest fires, and floods have many asking what, if anything, they can do about climate change? A piece by Emily Aitkin in the newsletter Heated argues that it’s high time for everyone “to stop thinking, and start doing.” Researchers are warning that climate tipping points are approaching faster than previously thought and that immediate action is needed to prevent the very worst outcomes of climate change. Reducing fossil fuel use is the key to doing this. The piece makes a case for engaging in activism that targets corporations and governments to create the systemic change needed to decarbonize economies. “The most harmful lie being spread about climate change today is not that it is fake,” Aitkin writes. “It’s that nothing you can do can help save the world.” (Heated, Guardian)


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