Grand Rapids officials looking ahead to next big storm

Apr 23, 2013

The Grand River hit a record high level in Grand Rapids over the weekend.  Volunteers spent hours filling sandbags to protect homes and city buildings.

City managers are still dealing with the flood waters. But they’re also planning for future storms.

Haris Alibasic directs Grand Rapids’ Office of Energy and Sustainability.

“Given the more intense and more frequent, intense rain events we’re probably going to be experiencing, as climate change is anticipated to really have a serious impact in the Midwest," he says.

He says the city has already done a lot to improve how it handles stormwater. Grand Rapids has almost finished separating its stormwater and sanitary sewer systems. That cuts down on the amount of raw sewage that can get into waterways during a storm.

But city officials want to do more.

Mayor George Heartwell’s office is getting help from the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

The group is working on a report for the city. It’ll look at ways to help Grand Rapids adapt to climate change, including getting ready for more intense storm events.

Rachel Hood is the group’s executive director. She says southern Michigan has lost more than 50 percent of its wetlands.

“And wetlands are one of nature’s great resources for managing stormwater," she says.

So, she says we can try to mimic nature in our cities to get prepared for future storm events. That could mean doing things like making green roofs (planting greenery on rooftops to absorb water)… and creating porous pavement.

“Water falls onto that pavement and rather than running off, picking up pollutants on the way, it just drips into a layer of sand and then into a layer of rock, into the groundwater system,” she says.

Hood says they’ll get a draft report to the city of Grand Rapids next month.