Data Modeling Helps Detroit Avoid $500M CSO Infrastructure Investment

Five years ago, the city of Detroit, MI, filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history at an estimated $18 to 20B. At the time, there was a lot of speculation in the water market as to how the city would continue to serve its citizens with viable water and sanitary sewer services. Ultimately Detroit reached a deal with neighboring Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb counties to create the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), a new regional water and sewer authority. Spring forward to today and despite Detroit’s population continuing to dwindle, it’s water and sewer provision under the GLWA has recovered significantly.

Under the agreement, the City of Detroit is leasing its infrastructure and water and wastewater treatment facilities to GLWA for $50M a year for 40 years. The $50M annual lease payment is being utilized to replace the aging water and sewer infrastructure of the city. The deal was crucial to adjusting the city’s debt and helping it exit its historically unprecedented municipal bankruptcy.

Sue McCormack, CEO of GLWA, points out in her foreword to the Authority’s Fiscal Year 2018 and 2019 Biennial Budget and Five-Year Financial Plan that the GLWA maintains a flat budget, is bringing down debt, investing in advanced asset management and expanding energy management.


“Detroit Lake.jpg” Sheila Sund © 2014

One example of such innovation is the Open-Storm Detroit Dynamics project which recently won the inaugural Intelligent Water Systems Challenge hosted by the Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology (LIFT). The competition challenged students, professionals and technology experts to use innovation and data to solve a difficult issue facing a water or wastewater utility.

GLWA in conjunction with the University of Michigan used data analytics to develop a tool to maximize the use of existing collection systems and minimize combined sewer overflows in Detroit. The team predicted that their solution can enable Detroit to handle an additional 100 million gallons of water with no new construction. Based on Detroit’s costs for building new storage, this translates to savings of approximately $500M.

It’s these types of enhanced analytics that GLWA and the City of Detroit hope will continue to keep costs down while ensuring the region’s population continue to have access to clean water and sanitary services.