CEE Engineers Receive Erb Family Foundation Grants

Funding Will Help Address Regional Wastewater and Stormwater Issues

U-M CEE engineers have received two grants totalling more than $1.17 million from the Erb Family Foundation to research regional coordination, with a focus on optimizing wastewater and stormwater systems operations, and assisting residents and municipalities in managing these water issues using digital tools. 

CEE Prof. Glen Daigger is the lead P.I. for a grant of more than $570,000 over two years. This funding will support a project focusing on the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) wastewater service area in Southeastern Michigan, which includes portions of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The team will work to better manage urban flow, leveraging existing stormwater assets in a more coordinated manner on a regional basis to maximize their potential. The primary watersheds in Southeastern Michigan that will be impacted by this effort include large portions of the Clinton, Detroit, Huron and Rouge watersheds. Regional approaches to stormwater management have significant potential to benefit water quality in the major watersheds in the region, in addition to offering significant climate resiliency benefits. 

This project also seeks to identify barriers and roadblocks for regional stormwater cooperation in Michigan. The first step will be to identify obstacles to new ideas and technologies from being adopted regionally. The research then will examine successful regional stormwater cooperation by identifying innovative approaches which have been successfully adopted in other locations throughout the United States and globally. To achieve this goal, the team will review successful strategies implemented elsewhere and relate them to the barriers seen in Michigan. The focus will be on adopting new strategies to manage these issues. 

“Climate variability is forcing consideration of new stormwater management approaches,” said Curt Wolf, the Managing Director of the Urban Collaboratory. “This project is essentially about looking at barriers to regional cooperation on stormwater management and the adoption of new and innovative approaches across the region. More often than not, barriers are not necessarily technical but rather for other reasons such as regulatory, financial, risk, social, etc.” 

Following these steps, the team will identify approaches to overcome specific barriers for regional stormwater cooperation in Michigan. By implementing ideas and concepts developed by technical teams currently working in the system, researchers will seek to frame pathways to help regional agencies adopt new solutions.

CEE’s team will work directly with scientists and engineers who are responsible for the management of stormwater in the region. Because of this, real and implementable solutions can be developed, piloted at scale and then implemented on a regional basis. These approaches have the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars of capital investment and operations costs. The model would be informed by an understanding of the physical capacities and limitations of systems within the footprint, as well as the economics of a coordinated approach. By applying a systems view, segregated and coordinated solutions can be compared and evaluated in terms of costs, benefits, and anticipated outcomes (effectiveness, efficiency, and equity). This will incorporate both quantitative and qualitative assessments to demonstrate potential engineering, economic and environmental benefits of coordination and collaboration, including lower infrastructure costs and risks, and improving regulatory compliance. This collaborative approach is essential and will be bolstered by community engagement. 

CEE Associate Prof. Branko Kerkez is the P.I. for the second grant of $600,000 for a year, with a goal of transforming the management of stormwater in Southeastern Michigan using novel digital tools. The research team envisions an easy-to-use web app, accessible to anyone in the region, that will allow residents, community groups and municipal managers to personalize stormwater investments by interactively comparing options and choosing the solution that maximizes desired impacts. This approach will draw upon a wealth of untapped data, including sensors that are measuring regional infrastructure performance at unprecedented scales. By verifying stormwater investments using highly granular measurements, this approach will set an entirely new regional and national paradigm for reducing overflows, pollutant loads and flooding. 

The resulting web-based tool will update itself in response to changing conditions and will allow residents, community groups and municipal managers to finetune stormwater investments based on a real-time model of regional watersheds. By seeking to reduce harmful sewer overflows and runoff pollution, the outcomes of this proposal will advance the Erb Family Foundation’s goal to promote stewardship of the Great Lakes. 

To start the project, the researchers will analyze an unprecedented set of data collected by the group in the city of Detroit. Starting in 2020, the Sierra Club of Detroit and U-M deployed nearly 25 real-time wireless green infrastructure (GI) sensors across Detroit, measuring internal water levels using a pressure transducer. The sensor data will be used to study the infiltration performance of GI in the region. With close to two years of continuous sensor data collected at nearly 25 sites, the infiltration characteristics of rain gardens and other GI will be studied on a storm-by-storm basis. 

This plan builds upon years of collaboration among The Sierra Club of Detroit, Friends of the Rouge and U-M CEE.

“These tools are intended to make information more accessible for residents and community groups,” said Prof. Kerkez. “The ultimate goal is to empower groups with data to make informed decisions about flooding and water quality.”


Portrait of Mason Hinawi
Mason Hinawi

Marketing Communications Specialist
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering