By DEBBIE DINGELL
‘Once-in-a-lifetime” has become a mantra across Michigan. Over the past several years, our state has experienced reoccurring storms that have pushed families out of their homes, devastated local businesses, destroyed irreplaceable heirlooms, flooded roadways and released billions of gallons of discharge, including raw sewage, into our waterways.
The financial cost of these disasters has been immense, not to mention the heavy emotional toll imparted on families who have lost their homes, businesses and decades of family mementos.
Although we’d like to think these tragedies are once-in-a-lifetime events, the truth is, they’re not. We only need to look back a handful of years for a reminder of this grim reality.
We can be sure another once-in-a-lifetime disaster will strike again.
We need a strong plan, and we don’t have one. I am repeatedly asked if the infrastructure bill we are considering in Washington will fix this.
Being brutally honest, it may not, because we lack a strong regional plan that can be immediately filed to be eligible for the money our community needs.
If the infrastructure legislation passes, federal agencies will have dollars to distribute. But just last week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan came to Michigan and told us that without a strategic plan in place, we’ll fall behind in the running for federal support on infrastructure and other critical resources.
This can’t be the case.
Beginning on June 25, strong storms dumped more than six inches of rain in just 12 hours, rapidly overwhelming storm drains and water pumps, funneling water into homes and businesses, trapping motorists on roadways and knocking out power for nearly 46,000 homes across southeast Michigan.
This isn’t a coincidence — it’s a product of years of underinvestment in our nation’s infrastructure that has left our systems weak and vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Residents from across Michigan’s 12th Congressional District have shared heartbreaking stories with me about their experiences with the recent flooding. One wrote to my office, “My basement was recently flooded and all my inventory for my home business is destroyed. … I lost over $500,000.00 worth of inventory. As I am writing this, I am emotional. I don’t know what to do, my business is destroyed and I cannot sell anymore.”
Another wrote, “All that water created such outside pressure on the walls to make them fail. It buckled (two) walls and broke out one. I have had insurance with the same company for 15 years and none of it is covered. My first estimate for repairs is $90,000, yes, $90,000. I was hoping to retire in the next couple of years but not now…”
Enough is enough. The time for action is now. We cannot continue to couch these floods as once-in-a-lifetime occurrences when my constituents and many others are dealing with unimaginable damage to their homes and livelihoods year after year. It’s time for government at all levels to work together, make a plan for future storms and ensure we are ready to protect our community at all costs.
Work has been done, but we must pull it all together, determine what is missing and develop a strategy that can be immediately implemented.
And as part of that, we need quick transparent studies of issues like pumps failing because of electrical outages, manual switches that may not have been turned on, drain maintenance as well as critical engineering fixes for the future. We don’t have years or months, we need to be doing it now.
I’m committed to doing all I can to take action. I’ve recently called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an independent, third-party study of the communities that have been particularly vulnerable to severe flooding and provide specific resiliency recommendations to Congress and our local communities.
I’ve also collaborated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deliver immediate relief to residents who have experienced damaged property and need essential resources.
Leaders throughout southeast Michigan must come together. Coordination is key to obtaining federal funding that will allow us to invest in more resilient infrastructure that can withstand these natural events and protect our communities from further harm.
We must work together to address storm water pump failures by installing backup systems that can keep pumps running when the power fails. We need to examine maintenance standards for storm water drains and sewers to ensure they remain free of debris and blockages that can cause backups that reroute water into nearby homes and businesses.
We need to consider programs to strengthen access to affordable home water pumps so residents have the confidence their homes and belongings will be protected during flash flood events. We also need to understand simple things each of us can to do help mitigate the impact of future torrential rain, which FEMA is trying to educate us about.
These storms are no longer “once-in-a-lifetime” — they have become our reality. The rain, the flooding and the ensuing damage will continue on whether we’re prepared or not. Protecting our communities and fixing our infrastructure so that it can withstand natural disasters isn’t a partisan issue; it’s an issue we all care deeply about. In the months ahead, we must make meaningful strides to prepare for these storms and continue working together to find common — and dry — ground.
(Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, is a U.S. House Representative serving Michigan’s 12th Congressional District.)