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Why Did This Detroit Non-Profit Release 85,000 Worms on Purpose?

Picturesque landscape, fenced ranch at sunriseDetroit has its fair share of problems, and like many American cities, it struggles to cope with an aging urban infrastructure. Now, Detroit citizen Wade Rose has an interesting idea for saving the city’s overburdened sewer system. He’s using worms.

Under Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the city has already launched several innovative programs designed to help residents recover from the economic recession. The city has offered zero-interest home-improvement loans, helped citizens get mortgages on vacant homes, and encouraged minority-owned businesses. But how can worms help the city get back on its feet?

To help raise money for infrastructure repairs, earlier this year the city of Detroit transferred control of its 100-year-old water and sewer system to The Great Lakes Water Authority, which will pay the city $50 million per year. However, Detroit will still retain ownership of its aging water system, which includes 3,000 miles of pipe and sees about 2,000 water main breaks a year, almost one break for every mile of pipe.

Consumer advocate Angie Hicks recommends that homeowners inspect sewer lines in homes more than 40 years old, but the number of vacant and foreclosed homes in the city makes that unlikely. To make matters worse, the high number of vacant lots in the city overtaxes the sewer system. So when it rains, compacted soil on vacant lots leads to water pollution that puts too much stress on the downtown water treatment facility. So Wade Rose had a strange, but brilliant idea.

“By loosening up this compacted soil, through using trees, native plants and worms, we’re actually stopping it from flowing in and then inundating the water treatment facility downtown, so we’re basically stopping water pollution before it even starts,” Rose said.

Rose works with a non-profit called Greening of Detroit, and last week the group released 85,000 worms on the lot. And after a week of heavy rain, the group didn’t find any worms on nearby sidewalks. By Spring 2016, the group plans to release thousands of worms on 31 more vacant lots. The worms were purchased from a worm farm in Pennsylvania.

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