detroit sewer and water

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A big piece of Detroit's bankruptcy puzzle was put in place today: the newly-created Great Lakes Water Authority, as the city finally came to agreement with Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to create a regional water authority to provide water to some 40% of Michiganders.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek says the agreement stipulates that the rate increases for all the customers will be limited to no more than 4% a year over 10 years. 

That won't necessarily mean that 4% would be the cap of the rates for all communities, since different communities set their own water rates, including taxes and surcharges. 

"How much you will actually spend depends on where you live," says Cwiek.

As Detroit gives up control of direct operation and leases out the assets that are outside the city limit, the revenue of $50 million a year is expected to be committed to capital upgrades for the Detroit water system itself. 

* Listen to the full interview with Sarah Cwiek above.

Detroit Water suspends shut-offs for 15 days

Jul 21, 2014
user rob zand / Flickr

The Detroit Water and Sewage Department is suspending shut-offs for 15 days.

Department Spokesman Bill Johnson said this suspension is a pause, not a moratorium. 

The department has been receiving a lot of criticism worldwide for shutting off water to 17,000 customers since March.

The 15 days will allow people another chance to come forward and prove they cannot pay their bills. The time will also be spent communicating with customers about payment plan options and financial assistance.

Update: The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has announced a 15-day suspension of its controversial shutoff campaign.  

​Unless you’ve been completely out of touch, you know that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been shutting off service to thousands of customers who haven’t paid their bills.

This has sparked huge controversy, protests and even condemnation from the United Nations. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes even got involved.

Last week, he told the deputy director of Detroit’s water department that shutting off water to city residents has, quote "caused not only a lot of anger in the city (but) also a lot of hardship."

And the judge added, "it’s caused a lot of bad publicity for the city it doesn’t need right now." That much is not in dispute. But not everyone is in agreement that this is an atrocity.

Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, supports the shutoffs, saying that the rule everywhere is that “if you use water, you have to pay for it.” He notes that there’s an assistance program, and says that if people are in trouble, “all they need to do is call.”

A sewage main for the Detroit sewer and water system.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Running the country's largest wastewater treatment plant is not easy.

You've got to treat more than 700 million gallons of 'who-knows-what' every day.

In 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department wasn't complying with federal Clean Water Act laws. That's when federal oversight over the department began.

That oversight ends today, according to federal judge Sean Cox.

From the blog DWSD Update:

DETROIT (AP) - Workers are back on the picket line a day after a judge ordered them to end a strike protesting job cuts at the Detroit regional water department.

WWJ-AM reports workers drew honks from passing motorists Tuesday morning outside a Detroit Water and Sewerage Department facility.

Union attorney George Washington on Monday called federal Judge Sean Cox's injunction "outrageous" and filed a motion to dissolve it.

The 950-member union went on strike Sunday to protest plans to lay off many of them and privatize some of the work. The workers belong to Local 207 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

The proposed job cuts followed an April agreement between Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder to head off a state takeover of the city's finances.

A sewage main for the Detroit sewer and water system.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

U.S. District Judge Sean Cox has ordered a stop to a strike by workers in the Detroit water and sewer department.

But a union attorney says workers are not expected to be back on the job immediately. Attorney George Washington says a motion will be filed to dissolve the federal judge's motion.

Washington says, nobody will return to work until they have talked with their union leaders.

The Detroit Free Press reports that union lawyers are working to get Judge Cox off the case:

Lawyers for striking Detroit water and sewer workers want U.S. District Judge Sean Cox booted off their case, arguing he is acted as both a judge and a party to the dispute.

“This man is acting like an emergency financial manager on steroids,” said George Washington, one of the lawyers representing AFSCME 207, the union that represents more than 1,000 workers for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. “This is being managed as a dictatorship.”

The workers began the strike yesterday, to protest plans to eliminate most jobs through privatization or other steps.

The Detroit water and sewer department serves about 4 million people in southeastern Michigan.

The much anticipated public corruption trial against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, former Detroit Sewer and Water chief Victor Mercado, and contractor Bobby Ferguson is expected to start next month. Jury selection is underway, and today a judge refused to provide Kilpatrick with a new lawyer, someone Kilpatrick says he loves, but does not trust.