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    Project to eliminate CSOs began in 1988

    A significant public works and environmental upgrade, nearly 30 years in the making, is now complete. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell today announced that the City has completed its combined sewer overflow (CSO) control program three years ahead of a state mandated deadline.

    According to Grand Rapids officials, the State of Michigan issued a mandate to the City in 1988 to eliminate all CSOs by 2019. The mandate was necessary to upgrade a portion of the 100 year-old Grand Rapids sewer system that used a system of combined sewers with both storm water and sanitary sewage transported in a single pipeline. The CSO approach was common across the country at the time of construction. However, engineers over-time discovered that the antiquated CSO system did have serious drawbacks including prompting flooding during heavy rainfalls which caused basement backups and allowed untreated sewage to be discharged into area rivers.

    “Reengineering and digging up our historic city over the past 30 years to install proper storm and sewerage system was no small feat,” Mayor Heartwell said. “Although it inconvenienced our residents with, what seemed to be, an unending series of construction projects that interrupted neighborhoods, we can positively say now that it was the right thing to do. The water quality improvements produced by this project are remarkable and are a generational bequest to the Grand River watershed.”

    Design services for the city’s CSO project began in 1987 with the construction of a 30 million gallon retention basin and then continued with engineering for separation of the City’s combined sewers. At that time, the City’ combined sewers carried approximately 1.96 billion gallons annually and encompassed a more than six-square-mile area. The enormous scope of work included eliminating 59 sewer overflow sites and discharges into the Grand River by separating and replacing storm and sanitary sewers and installing 119 miles of new pipelines. The City completed the first phase of the project on the west side of the city in 1999.

    This month crews completed work at the intersection of Washington Street and Lafayette Avenue -- the last of the 59 original overflow sites.

    Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong says the project significantly enhanced the city’s water quality and reduced the chance of localized flooding. “Although the project seemed overwhelming and a massive undertaking, Grand Rapids looked at the mandate as an opportunity to invest in rebuilding neighborhoods and business districts while achieving this critical environment outcome. Our CSO projects focused on each element of infrastructure that creates quality places.”

    As the project evolved over the past three decades, the City Engineer’s Office and Environmental Services Department worked to incorporate new techniques focusing on green infrastructure and design components into projects. “These green techniques often created unique places throughout neighborhoods such as narrowing existing roadways where possible to increase grass parkways, said Mark DeClercq, city engineer.

    Mike Lunn, environmental services manager, added that these public works improvements went a step further to decrease water flows on concrete and asphalt surfaces.  “Additional green infrastructure improvements made during the CSO project also included installing rain gardens (bioswales) and hydrodynamic separators to remove sediments and porous pavement,” he said.

    DeLong said completion of the project ahead of schedule, “is a tribute to the City’s partners who provided CSO services including Black & Veatch, Fishbeck Thompson, Carr and Huber--Materials Testing Consultants, and the great work of our construction industry partners. It is also a testament to our staff, Mayors and City Commissions and the will of our residents and ratepayers to see this through. This was a total community effort and we cannot thank everyone enough.”

    “Grand Rapids has been very proactive in addressing combined sewer overflows to the benefit of residents and the environment,” said Cindy Wallis-Lage, President of Black & Veatch’s water business. “Accomplishing this major project three years ahead of schedule is a credit to the city‘s strong community leadership and public works team.”