LORRAINE AUSTIN, Friends of the Shiawassee River Executive Director, attended the Owosso City Council meeting on Monday, July 6 due to her concern regarding the ongoing sewer overflow issue into the river.
She is shown thanking Owosso City Manager Nathan Henne for the presentation, stating that the overflows are a large problem without quick and easy answers. She explained that Friends would step up to work with the city since both groups have the same goals.
Austin also mentioned the annual river clean up, now planned from July 25 through Aug. 2. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to visit www.shiawasseeriver.org or call (989) 723-9062 to register before Thursday, July 23.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
Owosso City Manager Nathan Henne offered a sanitary sewer inflow and infiltration presentation to council during the Monday, July 6 in-person meeting at city hall. This marks a continuation in discussions the council has had regarding the sanitary sewer collection system.
In June 2019, the council discussed the possibility of a project seeking to improve the current infrastructure and increase reliability of service. A five-year project, then estimated at $4,917,400, that would be paid through user charges over a 20 year, low-interest loan and would include sanitary sewer and manhole improvements and the construction of a new 1,000,000-gallon retention basin to handle sewer overflows was part of the 2019 discussion. During the meeting last summer, Matt Kennedy of OHM Advisors, detailed a plan that would see the construction of a new, above ground retention basin on the south side of Beehler Street, in the northwest quadrant of Owosso. Council recognized at that time that the sanitary sewer inflow project was going to be a lengthy process.
As many residents are aware, Owosso has a history of sanitary sewer overflow issues, due to a complex variety of reasons. Sanitary sewer overflows occurred four times in both 2011 and 2013. In December 2013, 4,000,000 gallons – an Owosso record – overflowed, but it should be noted that was due to a complete power outage because of the ice storm. In May 2020, the city faced a 3,100,000-gallon overflow problem after a 4.7-inch rainfall event.
Henne offered considerable information during the July 6 meeting this last week. In 2010, the city started with looking at private sector inflow in infiltration separation in an effort to reduce inflow from roof drains downtown and some other residential locations. Six downtown flat roof sites were then properly re-routed out of the sanitary system and into storm sewers. Seven remaining roof drain issues were scheduled for 2011.
The 2017 Wastewater Asset Management Plan through the city demonstrated that 1,000 footing drains and 200 illegally connected sump pumps are a considerable part of the overflow problem. Henne’s presentation suggested that a 1-million gallon retention tank (possibly on Beehler Street) would eliminate the equivalent of 450 footing drains.
An illegal footing drain is exterior to a property, generally running along a foundation and connected to the sanitary sewer system. Just like illegal sump pumps and roof drains, footing drains cause problems with the city sewer service, and in certain situations lead to overflow issues – into the Shiawassee River. The 1-million gallon retention tank would assist with the problem. Such a storage unit would cost roughly $3.5 million.
Ultimately, Henne’s recommendation to council was to continue with repairs to the collection system while developing a program to remove illegal sump pumps and footing drains. He also recommended the retention tank.
Council member Janae Fear asked about Corunna’s overflow problems. Henne shared that Corunna made enormous progress with footing drains a long time ago, so they don’t have the same issues. Durand and Owosso are the primary municipalities in the county with overflow problems.
Council member Jerry Haber expressed concern in the cost for a resident forced to remove a sump pump in order to become legally compliant. Henne explained that the city can enforce the ordinance, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem for a resident – though there are lots of options the city can make in developing a program. The presentation was offered to get council members thinking further about the topic, and encourage open discussion.
Council member Lori Bailey initiated following a hybrid approach in developing a program, which Owosso Mayor Chris Eveleth supported. Bailey was also interested in what the next step might be. Henne told the council that the decision on “how fast to go” was up to them – particularly regarding the elimination of sump pumps and footing drains.