Detroit's 11 new bioretention gardens are solving city's flooding issues, water department says

Could the solution to Detroit's flooding lie in its medians?

The city's water department hopes so. It has installed several new bio-retention gardens in they claim are soaking up street flooding that would previously plague residents around the city - residents like Mark Jackson.

"It flooded bad. The streets, through the islands and then my basement backed up probably 2 to 3 feet," he recounted after one extreme event. "It took the drywall up two feet. Basically everything in the basement had to be replaced."

The story of basement flooding is a common one for Detroit residents and homeowners around Southeast Michigan. The mixture of old infrastructure and extreme weather has made every rain event one with potential problems. 

Flooding leads to mold and other house damage. It's also a costly disaster since it can ruin walls, floors, and family possessions. Additionally, it presents extreme issues for seniors and folks with disabilities.

Because so much of the region is covered in pavement, serious rain events often drop too much water for the system to handle. As the combined sewer system fills up and stormwater has nowhere else to go, it leaks into homes and covers streets.

That includes in the Aviation Sub neighborhood where Jackson lives. He's been in the neighborhood for 12 years and says flooding is a common occurrence.

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But according to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, its 11 new gardens built into the medians of neighborhood roads now have a place for all that rain to go.

"These plants are planted in special soil and all that soil keeps that rain water and snowmelt out of the sewer completely," said Lisa Wallick of DWSD, referring to several flood-tolerate plants.

The real trick though is what lies below. Sub-surface storage tanks built into the gardens can store up to 1.7 million gallons of water during a storm. Then over time they release the water.

"These storm water management practices are so important for making sure there’s capacity available in the combined system," said Wallick.