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Rising Waters Could Either Help Detroit Neighborhoods or Create Devastation


Last summer, record rainfall descended on the Detroit metropolitan area. Highways looked more like canals, sewer systems were utterly overwhelmed, and thousands of homeowners’ basements looked more like dirty indoor pools.

“It came in like a roaring river,” said Odessa Willis, 61, a longtime resident of Detroit’s west side. “There was 3 1/2 feet of water in my basement.”

Willis’s basement, which flooded on August 11, would be free of water within a few days. But the damage this flooding left behind wouldn’t be as easy to fix.

According to the Detroit Free Press, mold spores stemming from the flood aggravated her grandson’s allergies. To her dismay, Willis’s homeowner’s insurance wouldn’t cover the $3,000 to $5,000 price tag of repairing the water damage, either.

She was able to get assistance from All Hands Volunteers, a Boston-based nonprofit that works to help victims of natural disasters like the flooding in Detroit. Willis and about 400 other Detroit residents got the repair work they needed with the help of these volunteers.

But ultimately, last summer’s floods were far from an isolated incident. Experts predict that the effects of global climate change will only continue to worsen throughout Michigan, increasing rainfall and temperatures by the end of this century.

According to Model D Media, the Union of Concerned Scientists has predicted that rainfall could increase as much as 25% during the fall and spring by 2100. This would make storms like last summer’s a regular occurrence, overwhelming the city’s stormwater sewers, flooding basements and spilling sewage into the Detroit River and Lake Erie.

Others say rising waters could actually help Detroit, however — and that all it will take are some small changes to the city’s infrastructure and stormwater management systems.

Don Carpenter, an engineering professor at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, says one solution for Detroit is the green street — a specially landscaped road lined with bioswales, a type of grasses that absorb more water and provide relief to sewer systems.

21st-century Detroit could either become a wasteland where devastating floods are commonplace, or it could become one of the leaders in green engineering and infrastructure. It’s up to its residents to decide.

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