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Posted on Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

Stormwater study: Ann Arbor starts 2-year project that could lead to system improvements

By Ryan J. Stanton

The city of Ann Arbor has launched a two-year initiative to monitor and evaluate stormwater behavior throughout the city, and residents are invited to get involved.

The so-called Stormwater Model Calibration and Analysis Project now under way is a continuation of efforts the city began in 2007 with a stormwater GIS data collection and hydraulic model project.

Prior to 2007, the city didn't have a complete and accurate inventory of the stormwater management systems within the city.

Completing a comprehensive stormwater inventory and calibrated model, city officials said, will give city staff a fuller understanding of how the system functions during significant weather events.


Residents said water got so deep in their Ann Arbor neighborhood during a storm last March that this car had to be abandoned.

Photo courtesy of Laura Ent

Some of the heavier storms in Ann Arbor in recent years have left some neighborhoods badly flooded, and residents have complained loudly and publicly to city officials about what they perceive as deficiencies in the stormwater system — especially on the southwest side of Ann Arbor.

During the next two years, the city plans to do intensive data gathering to fine-tune or calibrate the existing stormwater model, allowing it to simulate real-world conditions.

The calibrated model will then be used to develop recommendations for consideration by City Council and the community regarding opportunities to improve the city's stormwater system.

City officials plan to reach out to residents in neighborhoods where known stormwater issues or complaints exist. Neighborhood meetings will be held in February and March to gather information from residents. Meeting schedules are available at

Jennifer Lawson, the city's water quality manager, said if residents have any information to share about stormwater issues — whether it's an anecdote, photos or videos — the city welcomes input at any of the upcoming meetings or via email at

In addition, the city is asking residents to participate in an online survey that can be found at

The city's website lists three meetings that are being held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and it includes materials handed out at a Jan. 29 meeting at Lawton Elementary School.

"We were extremely pleased with the feedback and quality of information that we received," Lawson said of the most recent meeting at Lawton. "This information will be used to guide the city in the calibration of a citywide stormwater model that will ultimately aid the city in the planning and implementation of future stormwater capital projects."

The purpose of the meetings is to validate and verify stormwater concerns specific to each neighborhood, collect additional information about areas of concern that city staff might not know about, and share information about the stormwater modeling and calibration project.

Public engagement is a key part of the process, and city officials are looking for residents interested in volunteering for a "Storm Corps," a group of citizens who will assist with gathering data.

The city also is assembling a Stormwater Advisory Group (SWAG), which will include interested citizens, stormwater professionals and other stakeholders.

Residents in the flood-prone Lansdowne neighborhood have been particularly active in the debate around stormwater and flooding issues in Ann Arbor. They started a blog in September called Ann Arbor Underwater. Neighborhood activists Irvin Mermelstein and Judy Hanway are using the site to rally support as they lobby city hall to take action to address their concerns.

Mermelstein recently sent letters to city officials raising more concerns about the city's footing drain disconnection program, which was temporarily suspended by the City Council in September.

Flooding problems have existed in Ann Arbor for decades. A series of old Ann Arbor News articles maintained on the Ann Arbor District Library's "Old News" website tells the story of a particularly bad flood in June 1968 that caused the Huron River to flood its banks, causing massive damage.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Jack Eaton

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

About fifteen years ago the City hired a consultant to perform a storm water system study in the Lawton neighborhoods. That study resulted in the 1997 Black and Veatch report which identified problems so severe that the estimated cost was too expensive to implement. That study was just for the Lawton area. How will we now afford a city wide plan after ignoring the problem and allowing significant development to worsen the problem? The City needs to put a moratorium on new construction until we have a comprehensive plan. We need to specifically address building in flood areas, perhaps even prohibiting new development in flood plains. We need to address the capacity of our storm water system before allowing more impervious surfaces (parking lots and roof tops). We need to focus our capital improvement planning on storm water and waste water infrastructure and put aside plans for high rises and train stations. The 14 foot diameter Allens Creek pipe near North Main Street has a capacity sufficient for a "two year storm". That means at least every couple of years we can expect a storm to overwhelm that part of our storm system. Recent experience suggests that we will continue to suffer increasingly severe weather events with 10 year storms coming annually and 100 year storms coming every few years. We are clearly not prepared. It now appears that the City will not even start to address the flooding problems until the modeling is finished in a couple of years. At the same time, our planning staff, Planning Commission and City Council pursue an aggressive agenda of dense development. We need to identify some short term relief for flood prone neighborhoods while the studying and consulting proceeds.


Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

We live at the top of a hill in Lansdowne and have had sloshing levels of water in our basement at least three times since we were made to install the sump pump. I hope they figure something out before two years!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

Did you know, or were you not told, about the flooding problems when you bought a house in that neighborhood? Serious question. I wonder if people are being made aware of these serious problems when they are looking for housing? I don't think a real estate agent would steer you there when they make money no matter where you buy so how do people keep getting steered into this problem neighborhood? The house prices do not seem to reflect the extent of the headaches involved in living there.

David Cahill

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

The City is passing out small rain gauges to individuals. I'm not sure how these gauges fit into this project if you're not in a flood-impacted area.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

They'd be able to tell where the water was coming from. They don't seem to know that at present. You can either divert the water headed into the bowl or just concentrate on draining the bowl.

Dog Guy

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

Residents in the flood-prone Lansdowne neighborhood undoubtedly are buoyed by news of this promised study. An analogy might help city officials understand the stormwater study results: Water (also) flows downhill.


Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

We need a calibrated model and a two year study before we do anything. We need to validate flooding. My, local governments move like snails. I'll bet actions would be quick if a piece of art was needed. Or, if a city official wished to enhance their own benefit package as we experienced in the past. Go figure!


Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

It is rather surprising that the city is still gathering data to complete their stormwater handling capability assessment. Obviously, we want city staff to fully understanding how the system functions during significant rain events. We just wish they would have gained necessary understanding before undertaking significant stormwater drain disconnections, and flood-creaton projects at West Park and PiHi. Ready. . . fire . . . aim. . . It's folly marksmanship. However, we are at the stage when repeated folly is the tip of the iceberg of leadership hubris. Hopefully, the City of Ann Arbor will serve residents by remedying the flooding problems that the city has created in their design and implementation of the current flood-creation "system". This is a far cry from their previous mantra of directing the citizens to "fix it themselves." Here's a chance for the city to serve residents to resident benefit. It contrasts the years of environment of continued service deterioration, whereby citizens serve and fund whims of self-serving politicians.

dading dont delete me bro

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 11:42 a.m.

does the study include looking at self cleaning curb drains? from my obervations, most (if not all) flooded areas have leaves piled up over the storm drains.