A Natural Approach to Stormwater Proposed in Michigan

The realities of climate change have been on full display in Michigan this summer, and a crusading drain commissioner is pushing for stormwater infrastructure that uses natural features to capture and reuse water during extreme weather.

2 minute read

September 1, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Two people walk down a residential street in ankle high water after a summer-time flood in Ann Arbor.

Flooding in Ann Arbor, Michigan on June 25, 2021. | Alec Cohen / Shutterstock

With memories of massive flooding still fresh from storms this summer, Sarah Grimmer details efforts around the state to increase its stormwater mitigation.

Some in the state are noticing the challenge of stormwater for the first time because the climate in the state is changing. "Since 1986, total annual precipitation across most of Michigan's lower peninsula has increased by more than 10 percent," writes Grimmer.

Now the state and its local and regional planning authorities are facing the challenge of updating its infrastructure—built on old assumptions on how much rain would fall on the state—for the new reality of climate change.

Ingham County Drain Commissioner Patrick Lindemann is cited extensively in the article to describe both the need for new infrastructure, as well as the challenges, like a lack of funding, standing in the way of a more resilient state. Lindemann suggests that instead of simply installing larger drainpipes—a task which many Michigan governments can't afford—a preferable strategy might be to rethink how to handle stormwater altogether.

Instead of funneling excess water in the Great Lakes, Lindemann wants to restore watersheds and create wetlands and ponds. "These projects work to hold rainfall and use it rather than pushing it out," explains Grimmer.

"The drain commissioner's goal is to build around 50 of these projects in Ingham County, he says it will take about 40 to 50 years to get this work done and, in the process, rebuild the county's infrastructure so that it can handle our new environment."

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