Due to heavy rain, the Clinton River swells by a bridge along Schoenherr Road, south of 15 Mile Road, in Sterling Heights Sept. 22.

Due to heavy rain, the Clinton River swells by a bridge along Schoenherr Road, south of 15 Mile Road, in Sterling Heights Sept. 22.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Rain causes rise in river levels, park flooding

‘We have areas in Dodge Park that have not dried out this year — which is very abnormal’

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 1, 2021

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The city of Sterling Heights did not escape unscathed from the downpours that happened in late September, as certain areas and amenities came to grips with flooding.

According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey’s website, the Clinton River’s gage height in Sterling Heights leaped from under 8 feet Sept. 21 to around 13.5 feet by Sept. 23 before trending mostly downward the following days until dipping below 9 feet Sept. 30.

On Sept. 22, Sterling Heights Community Relations Director Melanie Davis said there hadn’t been “as much rain as was predicted.” Still, the Police Department said that day that a portion of Hayes Road between Utica Road and Clinton River Road flooded, causing a temporary road closure.

Also on Sept. 22, the Parks and Recreation Department warned residents on Facebook that portions of the Clinton River trail and Clinton River Park North had experienced flooding. A couple of days later, the department said staffers planned to begin cleaning up the trail Sept. 27.

“As floodwaters recede, we ask that you please be careful on trails, as there will be areas of soft sand, crossing trees and other hazards,” the statement said.

Eric Diesing, a watershed ecologist from the Clinton River Watershed Council, confirmed that Sterling Heights has seen an increase of rain that has caused the Clinton River’s level to go up and flood some nearby parkland.

“We’ve seen a lot of very heavy rainfalls this year, and with heavy rainfalls come some very high flows,” he said. “It is becoming more and more common, as the years go on, that we’re recently seeing these water events more frequently at Dodge Park and Sterling Heights.”

But Diesing called the parks “well-positioned” to help keep an overflowing river from flooding nearby home basements.

“The floodplain connection is really super important,” he explained. “The flooding of those parks is not necessarily a bad thing. It would be flooding into homes that are built right next to the river. That water would have to go somewhere.

“It’s almost a restoration technique, a greenway. It gives the water area to move and a floodplain to drain into.”

Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois said the city has a lot of parkland in low-lying floodplains and floodways. He said those areas take the overflow of water during large-scale rain events.  

“It basically provides an outlet for rivers to overflow, and (it) holds the water … until the river can once again collect and discharge the water into the lakes,” he said.

Langlois said it usually takes a couple of days for the excess water from a heavy rain to crest and subside. Once park workers were able to access the trails, they were able to clean them up in a couple of days, he explained. But he said some sections remain wet.

“We have areas in Dodge Park that have not dried out this year — which is very abnormal — based on the intense heavy rainfalls we’ve gotten throughout the summer,” he said.  

The best steps the city can take to mitigate flooding is to keep waterways clear of woody debris and logjams, Langlois said.

“Water finds the path of least resistance,” he said. “Having clearer rivers helps the water to more smoothly run throughout our waterways.”

Learn more about the Clinton River Watershed Council by visiting www.crwc.org. For more information about the Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation Department, visit www.myshpr.net.

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