detroit water and sewerage department

Detroit's vigorous effort to collect some $90 million in unpaid water bills has resulted in water being shut off to thousands.

That's drawn angry attention from the United Nations and Congressman John Conyers. He calls this a human rights issue.

Conyers believes that the causes of this crisis include the economic problems with the country, deindustrialization, higher unemployment rates, population decline, and the number of families who cannot afford water.

“We want assurances that households won’t have their water cut off because they cannot afford to pay it, because water is a human right,” Conyers said.

Conyers said that when he advocates to keep water on in every household, he is not including the people who can afford water and simply are not paying the bill. He said 44% of households in Detroit live below the poverty line. These are the ones who need water.

“This is not an appeal for them to get free water. I think everyone that gets water should get a bill and should be held accountable for it,” Conyers said.

Conyers said the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is thinking of increasing shutoffs to 3,000 a week to help recoup financial losses.

He added that increasing shutoffs as a way to reducing the debt is counter-productive. If a disease breakout occurs because of lack of water, the city will end up with a health bill that will exceed the amount of money that is owed.

He wrote a letter to the president, asking for help from the Hardest Hit Fund.

The fund was set up in 2010 to provide targeted aid to states that were hit the hardest by the recession.

Conyers noted that Michigan has drawn down 41% of its total "Hardest Hit" allocation of more than $498 million.

Conyers said he would like to see the money used to on repairs and upkeep of the water pipes.

Conyers said he received an indirect response from the administration saying the Governor, the state treasury department, and others need to present a united proposal for the funds.

*Listen to full interview above. 

Andrew Pennebaker / Flickr

Detroit's water crisis is making world-wide headlines.

First came shut-off notices. Then water was turned off to nearly 15,000 customers in April through June, many of them low-income or seniors – or both.

The Detroit Water Brigade is one of the groups helping those who've lost water. The group has distributed over 300 cases of water in the past few weeks to Detroiters.

Deemeko Williams is the Chief Coordinator at Detroit Water Brigade.

“We provide lots of love, empathy, compassion, and we let people know that this is not their fault, but this now has become their fight,” Williams said.  

Donations are coming from their website detroitwaterbrigade.org, an Amazon wedding registry in the group's name set up to provide bottled water and supplies and resources hubs.

Williams said the best way to resolve the issue is to have the water board host a community meeting and let the thousands of residents who are suffering come and set up a payment plan.

Williams suggested that the meeting be help in Cobo Hall’s Grand River Ballroom from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for five days.

“We have 700,000 people that still live here in the City of Detroit, and the majority of them are falling through hard economic circumstances,” Williams said. “We call for an end to the shut off immediately!”

Williams says places like Comerica Park, Ford Field and Eastern Market are behind on their bills, yet still have running water.

“Joe Louis Arena owes $80,000. The V.A. hospital owes $131,000, and they are trying to run the buck on low-income and seniors to pay their bill and it’s unfair. It’s unjust,” Williams said.

To read more about Detroit water shutoffs click here

*Listen to full interview above. 

*If you’d like to find out more about the water shutoffs in Detroit, check the links below. You can also call 1-844-42-WATER if you live in Detroit and you’re water has been shut off.

-Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom. 

Paul Hitzelberger / United Photo Works

In Detroit, controversy is raging over one of the few things the bankrupt city has in abundance: water.

So far this year, Detroit has shut off for 17,000 customers as it tries to collect millions in overdue bills.

But many residents are upset with how the city is going about it—and question whether some are getting special treatment.

“Here we are, giving out water…and we still owe on the water bill”

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Thousands of Detroit residents are without water service right now due to unpaid bills—but social service agencies and community groups are trying to make sure no one goes thirsty.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department cut off service to more than 7500 delinquent account-holders in April and May—and ramped up shutoffs in June.

Department officials say it’s a necessary step to collect millions of dollars in back payments.

But critics say it’s caused real suffering, and could lead to a public health crisis.

Reem Nasr/Michigan Radio

Protesters voiced their anger Monday morning over the controversial water shut-offs in Detroit.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department sent out more than 46,000 shut-off notices this spring and has turned off water to about 4,500 customers.

Community activists and religious leaders met outside of Gov. Rick Snyder's midtown office. They asked him to impose an immediate moratorium on the shut-offs. They also want the city to work out an affordable payment plan based on a person's income.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Longtime Detroit Congressman John Conyers has sent letters to President Barack Obama and other officials requesting immediate action and relief regarding water shutoffs in the bankrupt city.

The Democrat seeks to stop the shutoffs for nonpayment. Conyers said in a statement Friday that actions represent "an overzealous and misguided approach to cost-cutting."

The water department, responsible for about $6 billion of Detroit's $18 billion in debt, is a major issue in bankruptcy.

User: Firesmile / flickr

The United Nations says recent water shutoffs at the homes of poor Detroiters are a violation of international human rights.

That came after a letter was sent this week to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The letter came from a coalition of welfare rights groups. They accuse Detroit's water department of putting poor people at risk with mass shutoffs.

Back in March, the city began to shut off water service to more than 150,000 delinquent customers who collectively owed more than $118 million.

One of the groups appealing to the United Nations is the Blue Planet Project, based in Ottawa, Ontario. We were joined today by its founder Maude Barlow.

dwsd.org

The people who run Detroit’s water system faced fierce criticism Wednesday, after the United Nations issued a statement calling the city’s mass water shutoffs a possible human rights violation.

Critics lined up to blast officials at a Board of Water Commissioners meeting for ongoing efforts to cut off customers with unpaid bills.

Many cited the UN’s assertion that “when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections.”

A DWSD interceptor sewer line during construction in 2001. This line is north of Detroit in the Clinton River watershed
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department officials say they’re working to put the system on sound financial footing – including raising rates and shutting off service to thousands of households.

Water department officials briefed the Detroit City Council on planned rate hikes Tuesday.

They propose hiking the typical Detroit residential customer’s water bill by 8.7% to 10.4%.

As “grand bargain” legislation sails through Lansing, the fate of Detroit’s water department could become the biggest issue holding up a speedy exit from bankruptcy.

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr maintains the city needs to find some way to generate revenue from the system, which serves more than 4 million people in southeast Michigan.

Orr is still pursuing two different possibilities: spinning the department off to a regional water authority, or leasing it to a private operator.

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DETROIT (AP) - A judge has ordered the city of Detroit and the suburbs to further explore the creation of a regional water department.

Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes granted Wayne County's request Thursday to have the parties sit down with a mediator.

Detroit's water department provides water to Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr has expressed interest in spinning off the department as a regional agency.

But some suburban leaders are concerned about future financial burdens on their residents.

The judge says the bankruptcy case is a "unique opportunity" to keep negotiating. Otherwise, Rhodes says the opportunity "will be lost forever."

It's no surprise that shipping conditions on the Great Lakes are miserable, even though spring has officially sprung and the shipping season officially opened March 25.

No commercial traffic has yet made it to the Soo Locks and ice is still four feet thick in some places, particularly in Lake Superior. On today’s show, we speak with a member of the U.S. Coast Guard about what's being done about this.

Then, what happened as World War II brought women and minorities into Detroit's assembly plants?

And, the Detroit bankruptcy is starting to affect the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Water prices could go up, impacting consumers far outside the city. Daniel Howes joined us for our weekly check-in to tell us more.

Also, Phil Cavanagh became the third candidate to enter the race to replace Robert Ficano as Wayne County Executive.

First on the show, Michigan's economy may be pulling itself up and out of the Great Recession.

But our schools are still mired in an "education recession" and all of our children are paying the price.

That's the finding of the newest State of Michigan Education Report from The Education Trust-Midwest.

It's an eye-opening exercise to see how our state's schools and student performance compares to two states that are powering ahead in the national assessment: Massachusetts and Tennessee.

What lessons can Michigan learn from those two states?

The co-author of the new education report, Amber Arellano of The Education Trust-Midwest, joined us today.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The spotlight of the Detroit bankruptcy struggle is widening. From the DIA to the retirees and now to water.

As the clock ticks, emergency manager Kevyn Orr has fired the latest salvo in the increasingly testy talks with county representatives over the future of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

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Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is looking at potential private operators for the city’s water system.

Orr says the city has been forced to consider leasing the water system to a private operator because talks to create a regional authority with suburban customers broke down.

Kate Boicourt / IAN

What does the future hold for Detroit’s water and sewerage department?

We should have a better idea later this week, when the city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, submits a landmark plan in bankruptcy court this week.

Orr must submit a plan of adjustment for how to deal with Detroit’s estimated $18 billion in long-term debt, and one major sticking point has been what to do with the water department.

Kate Boicourt / IAN

Intense negotiations regarding the future of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department continued behind closed doors in federal court Tuesday.

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is pushing hard for a deal that would largely transfer control of the water department to a regional water authority.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The rates Flint residents pay for water are going to be reviewed. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Under a plan being pushed by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department would be overseen by a regional authority - something officials in cities and townships around Detroit have wanted for some time.

The Detroit News reports Orr's office is "fast-tracking" the creation of a regional authority:

Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, has been working with regional officials and water department board members on a plan. The authority would either own or lease the department, collect revenue from water bills and make payments to the city. The annual revenue could range from $60 million to $120 million, said Bill Nowling, Orr’s spokesman.

The move is critical to Orr’s bankruptcy strategy in part because it would provide the city with a secure revenue stream, Nowling said.

Detroit Water and Sewerage is undergoing a massive downsizing effort. The News reports the goal is to reduce the size of the workforce by 80% by 2017.

There are no details on how the regional authority would be structured yet.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A quarter billion dollar water pipeline project broke ground today near the Lake Huron shoreline.

The source of the water was on the minds of the people at the groundbreaking, including Pastor Floyd Fuller who gave the invocation.

““Drink from your own cistern.   Running water from your own well,” Fuller said, quoting from the Book of Proverbs. 

The well in this case is not a well but a lake.  Lake Huron to be specific. 

Kate Boicourt / IAN

Detroit’s emergency manager has a plan for the city’s water department—but not everybody likes it.

Kevyn Orr proposes leasing the system to a “Metropolitan Area Water and Sewer Authority” as it part of a larger restructuring of city operations.

NEFCO / YouTube

Detroit has budgeted $683 million to move forward with plans to build a biosolids dryer facility in the city. If built, it is expected to be the largest facility of its kind in the United States.

What exactly is a "biosolids dryer facility," you ask?

It converts human waste materials into energy or fertilizer.

Whether you view this as innovative green technology or just plain gross, the contract is a big deal for Detroit. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The city of Flint is dumping its contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Flint emergency manager Ed Kurtz signed a contract today to get the city’s water from a new pipeline that’s being built from Lake Huron to Genesee County.

Officials with Detroit's system made a final offer to try and keep Flint’s business. But Kurtz says the numbers were “unreliable.”

“After the first year…for 29 years they could raise those rates…do any kind of capital expenditures…anything they wanted to do…and just add them to our bill,” says Kurtz.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Today is the last chance for Detroit water department officials to make their case to keep Flint as a customer.

The state Treasury Department gave the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department until this evening to present its final best offer to the city of Flint.

Flint has been a DWSD customer for many years. But Flint city officials say they want to get their tap water from a new Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline being built from Lake Huron to Genesee County.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The city of Flint is reducing the water bills for its poorest residents.

Beginning July 1st, city homeowners who already qualify for Flint’s poverty exemption for property taxes will get a $53 break on their monthly water bills.  According to the city of Flint:

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A battle is brewing over where the city of Flint will get its tap water.

Last month, the Flint city council voted to join a project to get fresh water from Lake Huron.   Supporters say the project will save the city millions of dollars by replacing its current water source: the city of Detroit.

But the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is asking the state Treasury Department to veto the plan.

Bill Johnson is with the DWSD. He says state officials need to step in to prevent a “water war.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Flint city council has voted to get its future water supply directly from Lake Huron.

The city council last night committed Flint to a contract to get 16 million gallons of water a day from a new pipeline. 

Flint has been getting its tap water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.   But that has become more and more expensive in recent years. 

Supporters, like Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, say the new Lake Huron pipeline would be cheaper. 

“We think that having a mid-Michigan system makes more economic sense long term,” says Walling. 

Kate Boicourt / IAN

Highland Park’s mayor say the city’s water treatment plan will remain shut down indefinitely, while crews are working to repair serious problems that have plagued the facility for months.

Problems range from accumulating sludge to non-functioning valves and water meters. Windom says water quality has not been affected, but the problems are so pervasive that he shut the plant down pre-emptively.

Highland Park mayor DeAndre Windom says while the repairs are ongoing, the Detroit water and sewerage department will provide water directly to Highland Park residents.

Kate Boicourt / IAN

The Detroit City Council has unanimously rejected a controversial contract to overhaul the city’s water department.

Department officials wanted to award a $48 million contract to Minneapolis-based EMA Consultants.

The company proposed to lay off about 80% of the department’s workforce, in what officials called a necessary move to halt future rate increases.

But critics said the plan would do little more than gut and privatize the water system.

Photo courtesy of Birminghan Public Schools

The Detroit City Council has delayed voting on a contract to restructure the city’s water department.

Detroit’s board of water commissioners and Mayor Dave Bing have already approved a plan to contract Minneapolis-based EMA Consulting.

That firm plans to cut up to 80% of the water department’s workforce, and create “efficiencies” by privatizing many so-called “non-core” functions.

But after hearing public concern and anger about the plan, the Council decided to postpone a vote on the $48 million EMA contract.

In part, that’s because the Environmental Protection Agency asked the city not to take action before it can review the plan.

Councilman Ken Cockrel Junior says he want to hear from the EPA before moving ahead.

“The EPA has said they want 45 days to review that contract, and make sure there are no negative impacts,” Cockrel said. “I think when you have a federal agency that is charged with monitoring environmental quality for our country, and they say they need to look at this…I think we need to give them the time to do it.”

Detroit’s water department has been under a federal judge’s oversight since 1977, for periodic failures to comply with the Clean Water Act.

Detroit’s former water department head has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge.

Victor Mercado had been a co-defendant in ex-Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s ongoing public corruption case.

Mercado is one of the four people who, along with the former mayor, his longtime friend Bobby Ferguson, and father Bernard Kilpatrick, made up the alleged “Kilpatrick Enterprise.”

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