person holding cellphone. cellphone has a picture on the screen
East English Village resident Ronnie Oliver shows photos of the damage to his basement after several inches of water backed up during historic flooding in summer 2021. (Photo by Val Carter)

The Great Lakes Water Authority said Tuesday that it is denying all claims from Metro Detroit homeowners in response to damages from severe flooding in 2021.

GLWA received approximately 24,000 claims tied to the flooding last summer. Residents who filed those claims are expected to be notified this week by mail. 

In a Tuesday press release, the authority, in its decision, cited state law and an independent investigation that found the flooding was inevitable due to the historic rainfall. Under the state’s Governmental Liability for Negligence Act, GLWA would only be responsible for a basement backup if a defect in the system was the substantial proximate cause of the event or damage. 

The Great Lakes Water Authority was formed during the city’s bankruptcy and operates water and wastewater systems for eight southeast Michigan communities, including Detroit. 

Some parts of Detroit received six inches in just five hours during the June 2021 storms. During the heavy rains, several Detroit pumping stations had power issues causing them to operate at a reduced capacity. But GLWA said its independent investigation found that “heavy and historic rainfall caused basement and surface flooding on June 25/26, not a defect in the regional collection system.”

GLWA’s ex-CEO Sue McCormick resigned last July following criticism of how the authority handled the severe flooding. Suzanne Coffey was then appointed by GLWA’s board to take McCormick’s place.

“We understand the difficult situations homeowners and businesses face when flooding occurs. We are experiencing increased frequency and intensity of storms hitting our region,” Coffey said in the Tuesday announcement. “This is why it’s critical to focus on building resiliency in the regional system.”

In the year since the flooding the department has made several upgrades including installation of monitoring systems to give advance notice of power outages, development of operational strategies to reduce the impact of large rainfall events, and increased communications to alert the media and public about potential extreme weather events. 

GLWA also noted it has begun working with legislators to find federal funding for a Flood Risk Mitigation Study for southeast Michigan. If funded, the study would be conducted in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The authority reiterated in Tuesday’s announcement that residents can take steps to address flooding by disconnecting downspouts, checking the house for leaks, avoiding clogging drains, and keeping up maintenance on drains and sewer lines. 

Jerry Urquhart, a resident of the Aviation Sub neighborhood, lost about $6,500 in furniture, electronics and appliances in the flooding last year. He noted GLWA’s announcement that they’re trying to get federal funding for a flood risk mitigation study. 

“What about money for repairs?” he said. 

“It’s really depressing when you have these losses and they do an analysis and ‘it would have flooded anyway even if everything was working 100%,’” he said. “The depressing part about it is they deny it, and then there’s nothing you can really do about it.”

He received $400 from FEMA, but was hoping to get money from GLWA to finish replacing what he lost last year. 

“Right now I’m in the process of replacing stuff and really fixing stuff on my own,” he added. “It’s gonna be incremental – I can’t do it all at once.”

Paul Doherty, an attorney with Ven Johnson Law, a firm representing 500 residents in a lawsuit against the Great Lakes Water Authority, argued Tuesday that GLWA is stalling.  

“Delay, deny, and 100% expected,” he said of the announcement. 

The lawsuit argues that GLWA is responsible for the basement flooding because some pumps were not operating at full capacity during the heavy rainfall. 

“​​They weren’t going to voluntarily assume any responsibility for what will likely be in excess of 100 million in damages,” he said. “Great Lakes Water Authority can say whatever they want, and where this will get resolved is in a courtroom.”

On Tuesday, status conference orders in the case were issued to set the pretrial dates. 

Ronnie Oliver, one of the plaintiffs in the suit and a former water department employee, said the 2021 flooding resulted in several inches of water in the basement of his East English Village home.

The flooding required him to replace his hot water tank and heater, an expense that was a stretch for the retiree. On Tuesday, BridgeDetroit notified Oliver that GLWA said it would be denying all of the flood claims.

“That was no “act of God”, that was human error,” he said. Mulling over GLWA’s decision, he said, “That they weren’t responsible…maybe the class action will get to the root of what’s going on.” 

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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  1. GLWA in itself was a the greatest idea until other Surrounding Communities outside The City of Detroit, Michigan received a tiny fraction of injustices upon their families and households. I encourage the entire South Eastern Michigan (Communities join together (collectively) to address the flooding and other concerns facing the The City of Detroit, Michigan before we all are washed down the Detroit River!

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