DUWA Aerial Photo of Treatment Plant in Wyandotte Michigan


The System

The Downriver System is the second largest wastewater system in Michigan, serving 13 Wayne County Communities with a service area population of 350,000.  The treatment plant has the capacity to fully treat 125 Million Gallons per Day (MGD), and the capability to process up to 225 MGD during extreme wet weather events.  The System is operated and managed by the Wayne County Department of Public Services and employs more than 75 people.  The individual Communities each operate and manage their own collecting sewers that are tributary to the System.

Creation/Early History

The original sewage disposal system was built in the late 1930s under a Public Works grant from the Federal Government, and was placed into service in 1939.  The first treatment plant was built in Wyandotte on the site that still houses today’s wastewater plant, but with a much smaller service area (portions of Wyandotte, Lincoln Park, Allen Park, Ecorse and River Rouge).

Expansion and Growth/1962 Service Agreement

The Downriver System was enlarged and expanded several times to meet a growing population in the area after World War II.  After the State enacted Public Law 185 in 1957 (the Board of Public Works Act),  Wayne County created a Board of Public Works and commissioned engineering studies which recommended a regional system to serve the current and future needs of the Downriver area.  In March, 1962, a 50 Year Service Agreement was approved to establish the basis for designing, financing, constructing and operating the System which would transport and treat sewage from the 13 Communities which comprise the Downriver System.  Wayne County managed the System in accordance with the Service Agreement, but the 13 Communities were solely responsible for all of the costs including construction, engineering, operation and maintenance.

Federal Consent Judgment

In the late 1980s, state and federal regulators notified Wayne County that the sewage system was inadequate, and that major upgrades in both the treatment plant and the interceptor system were needed to comply with the requirements of the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act (CWA).  The System was cited for failing to provide full secondary treatment of all wastewater as required by the CWA, and for frequent untreated sewage bypasses during rain events when the interceptors were overloaded.  In 1989 U.S. EPA filed suit against Wayne County alleging unlawful pollution of the Detroit River from the System.  The 13 Communities were named co-defendants after Wayne County argued that local approvals and financing were needed in order to implement a remedial program to correct the problems.  A Federal Consent Judgment was lodged in 1994 which established a timetable for upgrading and improving the facilities.  New capital improvements totaling nearly $300 million were financed by the 13 Downriver Communities.  All of the new facilities were completed by 2006, at which time the Consent Judgment was terminated.

Post Consent Judgment

Because of the massive cost incurred to meet the Federal Consent Judgment, the Downriver Communities demanded a role in overseeing the management and administration of the System.  This initiative was an outgrowth of Community concern that the System be properly operated and maintained so as to avoid a recurrence of the neglect and deterioration that occurred in the 1980s.  In 2001 the Communities requested that Wayne County establish a “Joint Management Committee” (JMC) to create a mechanism for the Communities to give input to the County on critical issues such as rates and budgets, financing of capital improvements, staffing, and management issues.  The JMC was comprised of a representative of each of the 13 Communities.

Current Situation

The 50 Year contract between Wayne County and the 13 Downriver Communities (the 1962 Service Agreement) expired on March 1, 2012.  In September 2010 representatives from the County and the Communities started to meet to negotiate terms for a new Service Agreement.  Those negotiations led to the development of a proposed new Service Agreement which, if adopted, would have had the County continue to manage and operate the sewer system for 20 years.  However, in 2015 the new County Executive Warren Evans announced that the County wanted to phase out of providing service for wastewater transport and treatment, and suggested that the Downriver System be sold.  Subsequently, the Downriver Communities decided to purchase the System from the County and take over responsibility for its management and operation.  A “Letter of Intent” to purchase the System was issued in May, 2016, and accepted by Wayne County.  Efforts are underway to complete the transaction and officially transfer ownership to DUWA, with the expectation that the transfer will be completed in late 2017.


Allen Park*; Belleville; Brownstown Township*; Dearborn Heights*; Ecorse; Lincoln Park; River Rouge; Riverview: Romulus*; Southgate; Taylor; Van Buren Township*; Wyandotte.

*denotes Communities partially served by the Downriver System