Weathering the floods: Detroit neighborhood faces uncertain future due to climate change

Weathering the floods: Detroit neighborhood faces uncertain future due to climate change
April 7, 2023 Jonathan Shead

Across Detroit the effects of climate change are evident. In the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood on the city’s lower east side, overflowing stormwater drains, contaminated waterways and flooded basements are just a few examples of how the city’s aging infrastructure struggles to keep up with our changing climate.  

The city’s combined sewer system is the crux of the problem. The increasingly heavy rains bring stormwater together with sewage waste leading to the overflows into streets, basements and the backyard canals in this historic neighborhood. Residents are now also measuring the toxicity levels of the canals where Detroiters have been able to fish and swim. 

In recent years the city has tried to protect the community from record high waters on the Great Lakes and the Detroit River, installing Tiger dams and sandbags, but with lake levels now receding, flooding from the sewer capacity problems is a bigger concern. Federal funding may be able to help alleviate the problem, but will it be enough? Some residents now are suggesting some new technology should be considered to fix the problem.  

During Earth Month, One Detroit Senior Producer Bill Kubota visited the hard-hit Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood as residents there explore possible solutions. He talked with Jay Juergensen, who’s leading the neighborhood advocacy efforts, along with Myrtle Thompson, John Myers and Blake Grannum, who endured the flood damage and clean-ups from the 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2021 overflows. 

He also talked with Detroit Building Authority Director Tyrone Clifton about the unpredictable nature of change that may occur as the city and residents learn to navigate uncharted waters in the future.

This story was produced in partnership with Great Lakes Now and in connection to PBS NOVA’s new documentary “Weathering the Future.” For more on the impact of global climate change, watch “Weathering the Future” on Detroit Public Television at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, April 12. 

Catch more news at Great Lakes Now: 

Detroiters can get another 1,125 gallons of water under discount program

Science Says What? Climate change, deluges and snow days

Featured image: An aerial view of the canal that runs behind the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood on Detroit’s lower east side. (Photo Credit: One Detroit)


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