How water works in Delta County


Are you one of those with a yard full of water this spring? You have lots of company.

I have had many calls from homeowners wanting me, as Delta County drain commissioner, to help them solve their water problems. Of course they need help when their basements are being flooded and water is ruining furnaces and everything else. Some of these flooding problems happen annually, and others are new.

One homeowner problem is knowing which government agency to call for help.

Logical choices are Delta County Road Commission (DCRC); drain commissioner; state of Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) state of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ); the Delta County Soil Conservation District (DCSCD) and some other less likely agencies.

I’ll give you a general Delta County clarification: DCRC constructs and maintains all Delta County roads and right-of-ways, which include adjacent ditching. MDOT is responsible for constructing and maintaining all state of Michigan roads/highways and right-of ways, which include adjacent ditching.

Recent high water situations are giving these agencies more than they can handle. Long-standing decisions about drainage are giving them other problems.

Beyond those roads and adjacent ditching, things get much more complicated. Some homes have new elevated septic systems in their yards, which move surface water to other places in the yard during flooding, and the state of Michigan Health Department doesn’t seem to care if the new elevations give you more spring flooding.

Responsibilities for other flooding problems have changed a lot in recent years. The MDEQ has sought legislation giving them much more control over some of the situations, and the DCSCD, in conjunction with the MDEQ and the Delta County Board of Commissioners, has assumed most of the rest of the responsibility for managing Delta County water.

Prior to my elected term of office, the Delta County drain commissioner received more than $6,000 per year. Two years ago, the Delta County Board of Commissioners apparently decided that all of the prior water control responsibilities were now in the hands of agencies other than the drain commissioner, and so they reduced the salary for the drain commissioner to $50 a year, leaving me with no resources to do what most voters thought they were electing me to do 18 months ago.

For instance, I was amazed to learn that I will be “out of the picture” when the old concrete bridge is removed from the Escanaba River this summer, and when the Canadian National Railroad puts a “road” in the Escanaba River this summer to replace the steel structure of the train bridge. I guess I was wrong in assuming that the river would be included as a “drain.” The removal management of the old bridge project was given to Rory Mattson of DCSCD.

I apologize for all of the confusion about homestead water problems and where people might get help. I have responded, at my own expense, to some situations last fall and this spring and tried to coordinate with several other agencies. I also know that the other agencies are doing the best they can with limited budgets and unmanageable flooding circumstances.”

Bill Finlan