Detroit and suburbs reach deal on water and sewage

Feb 11, 2011

An agreement between Detroit’s mayor and suburban leaders could end years of wrangling over how the city’s massive water system is run.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department serves more than 4 million people in Southeast Michigan. It’s been the center of controversy for years. Suburban customers have complained about rate hikes and cost overruns, and they’ve demanded more say over how the department is run. 

The tentative deal seeks to address those issues. And Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch says it could serve as a model for regional cooperation:

"Of all the regional issues that we’re at odds over, this is one that if we can show we can make it work, we can certainly apply the same formula to all the other challenges in the region." 

The plan calls for Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties to each choose an appointee to the board that oversees the department. A supermajority would be required to approve rates and contracts.

Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano says it’s a good deal for everyone:

"This thing’s been a political football for decades now. And in the past, the parties weren’t able to come together and have a common basis. And plus Mayor Bing is not the previous administration. And I think that went a long way in galvanizing where everybody could work together."

The deal requires the approval of a federal judge. The water department has been under federal oversight since the late 1970s for environmental violations.