Rain gardens, such as this one at the Southfield municipal complex, were discussed at the forum.

Rain gardens, such as this one at the Southfield municipal complex, were discussed at the forum.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Regional Stormwater Summit touts rebates for residents

Summit addresses flooding, water quality, green infrastructure

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | C&G Newspapers | Published October 24, 2023


OAKLAND COUNTY — On Oct. 20, more than 200 people gathered for the 10th annual Regional Stormwater Summit to hear from experts and learn about a rebate program designed to encourage residents to reduce stormwater runoff on their own property.

The event was hosted by Lawrence Technological University, the office of Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash and Pure Oakland Water at LTU.

While a final grade will not be determined until the spring of 2024, Conor Keitzer, from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, shared an update on the report card for the Clinton, Detroit, Huron, Raisin and Rouge rivers.

The progress report serves as a broad-level assessment to engage the community and create accountability. The final report card will be graded using 33 indicators based on six categories: water quality, infrastructure, human health, recreation, the economy and ecosystem condition.

During the progress update, Keitzer shared data on sewer overflows and flooding spanning from 2019 to 2021, noting whether a location had a combined sewer overflow event, or CSO, which is discharged from systems that carry both stormwater and sewage, and if the location did not have any CSOs.

“We know this is not a realistic goal in the short term, but it is in the long term. It’s something we want to work towards. So, we want to assess where we are now and make sure we’re progressing towards that goal of having no CSO untreated waste events,” Keitzer stated. “So the Clinton, during this time frame, did not have an untreated event occur. Detroit, we see quite a few, and the Rouge has huge CSO issue with lots and lots.”

Keitzer added that sanitary sewer overflows, or SSOs, were recorded in a similar way.

Using the average number of floods in the watersheds from 2017 to 2021, Keitzer shared that the Clinton River and the Rouge River had a 3.2 average number of floods, the Huron River had 1, the Detroit River had 0.8 and the River Raisin had 0.6.

“If we really want to make a meaningful impact, we have to get the residents involved,” Lynne Seymour, chief engineer for the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner, said about the George W. Kuhn District.

Teaming up with Stephanie Petriello, an environmental planner for Oakland County Water Resources Commission, the two spent the past 10 months working with the Center for Watershed Protection and the Clinton River Watershed Council to launch RainSmart Rebates.

RainSmart Rebates is a program designed to promote “environmental stewardship and help homeowners manage stormwater.” Residential homeowners in the George W. Kuhn Drainage District who implement green stormwater infrastructure practices such as installing a rain garden, rain barrels and planting trees are eligible for a one-time $2,000 rebate.

The George W. Kuhn Drainage District includes all or part of Berkley, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Madison Heights, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak, Royal Oak Township, Southfield and Troy.

The county has allocated $200,000 on a first-come, first-served basis starting Jan. 1, 2024, through 2025 for the RainSmart Rebate program. Rain gardens will receive a rebate of $6 per square foot. Rain barrels will receive $125 maximum, two per property. Trees can earn $250, maximum of two per property. +The rebate ceiling is $2,000 per property, allowing residents to mix and match their stormwater projects.

To apply, eligible homeowners can visit oakgov.com, search for “RainSmart Rebates” and complete an application. Once they’ve been verified as the property owner, a mandatory site assessment, which costs $25, will be conducted. Following the site assessment, the homeowner can install their stormwater projects; 20% of the rebate budget will be reserved to assist homeowners unable to financially or physically install their projects. The next step is for homeowners to fill out a rebate request with receipts and photos. The final step is for the homeowner to receive their rebate.

Birmingham, Oak Park, Royal Oak and Southfield are pilot partners for the RainSmart Rebate program. Despite the fact that only Southfield residents within the George W. Kuhn Drainage District will be eligible, Southfield Stormwater Manager Brandy Siedlaczek is still eager to see more residents implement these green infrastructures. “The county decided to do this program, so we could do it at a residential, local level, and try to get more people involved in being part of the solution to water quality and the flooding issues we’ve had.”

Siedlaczek explained that Southfield has a number of green infrastructure projects throughout the city on a municipal level, such as the bioswales at Beech Woods, Carpenter Lake and Inglenook parks, the bio-retention pond at Evergreen Road, and a tiered structure meant to retain stormwater at Valley Woods Trailhead. She explained that Southfield residents can anticipate more green infrastructure projects in Southfield, with more bioswales and rain gardens expected by the spring of next year.

For more information regarding the Regional Stormwater Summit, contact Alyssa Taube at TaubeA@oakgov.com.