Some Grand Traverse County residents illegally pumping water after floods

Jun 18, 2020

Credit Peter Payette

Grand Traverse County residents are having a hard time coping with the Great Lakes’ near record high lake levels.

“We’re seeing unprecedented storms and high, high levels in the lakes and groundwater, and the combination is just causing a lot of issues unfortunately,” said Arthur Krueger, director of municipal utilities for Grand Traverse County.

One of these issues is regular flooding in basements of local homes and businesses. Some desperate residents have turned to illegal solutions.

Citizens in Grand Traverse County are illegally pumping water from their flooded properties into the public sewer system, according to Krueger. This has overwhelmed the water treatment plant and contributed to numerous sewage overflows into the Boardman River in recent weeks.

“Everyone’s fighting the groundwater levels right now and they're trying to protect their property and we understand that,” Krueger said.  “It’s just discharging it into the sewer is not a good option and it’s overwhelming our capacity at times.”

As long as people keep pumping floodwater into the city sewer system, sewage floods will likely continue.

Because it’s only groundwater, Krueger says it would be better pumped back outside into a ditch, but he urges the community to reach out to the city for assistance.  If residents don't cooperate, the city may need to resort to penalties for those who continue to pump into the city’s system.

Flooding issues like this aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

Water levels in the Great Lakes have been consistently rising over the past five years, according to Andrew Gronewold, an associate professor and hydrologist at the University of Michigan.  This is due to snowmelt, low evaporation rates, high groundwater levels and, most recently, above average rates of precipitation.

“Climate models, climate projections and climate scientists have been saying pretty consistently now for a couple decades that in the Great Lakes region, there’s expected to be a long term increase in precipitation,” Gronewold said.  “And that’s unlikely to change.”

But Gronewold says Lake Michigan is likely at its peak for the year and should begin to plateau before beginning its seasonal descent in the fall.