Other Water Issues

Note: This is archived info from the original website for the Friends of Dicken Woods. 
It was written when the Friends were in the process of saving DW


The Issues

Neighborhood Water Problems

Residents of the Dicken neighborhood face a bit of water irony: on the one hand, there is abundant water in our backyards, our school's yards, and our sewers; yet on the other hand, there is too little water in our water-supply pipes. What's going on here?

Neighborhood Water Problem Survey

Shortly after the February 4, 2003 Planning Commission meeting, the Friends of Dicken Woods conducted a neighborhood survey to determine the extent of water-related problems throughout the area. Using door-to-door, telephone and email methods, the Friends contacted approximately 70 neighborhood households, asking about water-related problems in the respondent's yards and/or basements, and about water pressure problems in the water-supply system. The results: 76% of the neighbors reported water problems in their yards, 33% reported water problems in their basements, and 35% reported low water pressure problems in their water-supply pipes. Many neighbors reported spending significant sums of money to correct these problems, and very few - in fact only 2 - reported contacting the city regarding low water pressure problems. This last fact is particularly important since the City Planning Department staff reported (at the 2/4/03 Planning Commission meeting, in response to neighbors raising these issues at the original 11/19/02 meeting) that the city believes the area water pressure is fine because they'd had so few complaints. And so the survey confirms what we already knew: water pressure is a problem. The area residents, however, have carried on in relative silence.

Low Water Pressure

Why is water pressure a problem? Very simply, the Dicken neighborhood is located adjacent to the highest land in the City of Ann Arbor. Our water pressure is low, in large part, because we sit on high land. Making matters worse, Scio Township is supplied out of the same water pressure district (the West High Service District) as the Dicken neighborhood, with the intense development pressure in Scio Township further affecting our water pressure. According to the City of Ann Arbor Water Utilities Department website: "There is no elevated water tank in this district so pressure is maintained by constant pumping and is controlled by release of water into another district through a remote controlled valve."

The City Planning Department Staff Report for the February 4, 2003 Planning Commission meeting said: "This area is a high point for the west side of Ann Arbor so water pressure will naturally be less than areas of lower elevation. Efforts to increase the water pressure in this area will make other areas of the water-pressure district have too much water pressure."

Dicken area residents, and especially those who live on the higher ground west and southwest of Dicken Woods, are concerned that further development in the area will only exacerbate the low water pressure problems. If there is not enough water pressure now, won't it only get worse with 58 new higher-density townhouses added in?

Area Wetlands, and Stressed Sewer Capacities

As for abundant neighborhood surface water, we don't yet have definitive answers, though we are actively investigating. We do know the Dicken area and it's wider surroundings are home to many wetlands today. In addition, aerial photos from 1947 show large surface ponds in the neighborhood, where houses and Dicken Elementary School now sit. Today, the playfields at Dicken Elementary are often so wet, and for such sustained periods, as to be totally unusable by the school children. Important questions have been raised, as yet unanswered, about the hydrology of the area, the sources of the wetlands in Dicken Woods, and the role of Dicken Woods in the wider wetlands system, as well as in Allen's and Mallett's Creeks. That's a lot of questions.

Basement flooding too has been an increasingly urgent problem in the Dicken area, as well as in the downstream areas of the Dartmoor, Glen Leven, and Morehead neighborhoods. All of these impacted areas were specific subjects of the Ann Arbor Sanitary Sewer Overflow Study Task Force and its final report to City Council in Spring, 2001. In response to these emerging problems, the City has recently begun the massive footing drain disconnect project.

The two sanitary sewer routes that could service a new development in Dicken Woods both currently suffer severe surcharging problems, precisely where a new Dicken Woods development would feed in to them. Any new development in Dicken Woods would add a significant burden to an already beyond-capacity local sewer system. For an area sitting at the "top of the hill" and draining towards the Huron River through two stressed creek systems, this is a bad idea.

And so we find ourselves in the unhappy position whereby Ann Arbor is spending millions of dollars (in the midst of the most severe state and municipal budget crisis in over half a century) to correct sanitary and storm sewer infrastructure problems which have resulted in large part from increased city development and the introduction of massive new amounts of impervious surface. The choice before us today is whether to continue taxing our overburdened infrastructure by forcing a large-mass multi-building townhouse development into a special natural area where it simply doesn't belong, or, instead, to save the natural area and thereby enjoy all the environmental, social, and economic benefits that would result.