The Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids rises to the flood wall after a month of record-breaking rains. Photo by Mike Nichols
The record setting April showers have brought something much less attractive to Grand Rapids than May flowers — a very expensive flood.
In the fight against a swollen Grand River, which could crest at a record high 24.5 feet on Sunday, Grand Rapids city officials might be looking to spend at least $300,000 to keep city damage costs down and stop the floodwaters from getting into the Grand Rapids Wastewater Plant at 1300 Market Ave. SW.
“Sandbag-wise and manpower, we’re probably going to push the city $300,000,” said Mike Lunn, director of the city’s environmental protective services. “I’m not sure where all the funding will come from.”
“If the river stays within the river’s flood wall, like it’s supposed to, I don’t foresee any problems. We’re preparing, though, in case,” Lunn said. “If the predictions come out the way it is right now, I think we’re pretty safe.”
Lunn said the river is expected to crest at 24 feet Sunday morning, based on reports by the National Weather Service. In order to flood the wastewater plant, the water level would need to rise to 25.5 feet, or six feet higher than the record set in 1985 at 19.5 feet. But once the sandbags are in place, Lunn said it would probably take a flood of up to 28 feet to breach the wall, and that seems unlikely to happen.
If the Wastewater Plant would were ever flooded, it would be catastrophic for downtown and the surrounding areas, said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.
“We’d lose our sanitary sewer, toilets; we couldn’t discharge waste into the systems. It shuts down your entire sanitary sewage system. Nobody works. You’ve got potential public health issues if you can’t get rid of your sewage,” Heartwell said. “It would be a monumental event and cost millions. So if it costs us $200,000 to $300,000 to protect it, then it will be a worthy investment.”
Heartwell said an additional 50,000 sandbags have been ordered and the city is renting pumps from all over the state to take the pressure off the storm water system. Currently there are eight pumps ready, only one of which the city was able to get locally, and four of which came from Detroit, he said.
Scott Buhrer, the city’s CFO, said officials also ordered about $200,000 worth of a flood defense system called Trap Bag, a speedy deployable flood barrier system using large, connected “cells.” Lunn said 15-foot heavy-duty bags will be turning the Wastewater Plant into a fortress.
Heartwell said the Grand Rapids downtown is safe from flooding, even in the worst-case scenario, but the hardest impact will be on the neighborhoods. As he predicted, Wyoming Mayor Jack Poll declared Wyoming in a state of emergency due to flooding and power outages Thursday night.
“This is an event unlike anything any of us has ever seen before,” Heartwell said. “I think we’re as well-prepared as we can be. We will spend what we have to spend to keep the community safe.”