Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Charles K. Hyde


Detroit was one of the cities identified by the International Joint Commission as polluting the Great Lakes in contravention of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The United States Public Health Service also reported on the pollution that entered the Detroit River from Detroit's sewers. Pollution by sewage threatened lives with a dramatic increase in cases of Typhoid Fever and other gastro intestinal sicknesses. Chlorination of water supplies reduced these incidents to an acceptable level minimizing the arguments of sanitarians proposing wastewater treatment. Expansion of the city to encompass a rapidly rising population channeled the city's financial resources into infrastructure. Wastewater treatment was not deemed necessary to accommodate this growth. Adjacent communities, affected by the pollution attempted to create a metropolitan approach to wastewater treatment; this effort failed through a lack of political will and clearly defined objectives. Efforts by Detroit to build a plant were stymied by inter city and statewide politics, and insufficient city finances. New Deal programs and innovative legislation at the city and state level eventually provided the capital required to construct and operate a wastewater plant and provide for repayment of the loans to the federal government. Detroit with this wastewater treatment plant and its water treatment plant is unique in that it is the only central city acting as a service provider for a metropolitan area unlike most metropolises where metropolitan districts extend beyond political boundaries to provide utilities. Federal involvement in this and other large scale civil engineering projects during this period was the only way it was possible for them to be completed.