Years after the Clean Water Act passed, DWSD continues to pollute our rivers. DWSD takes wastewater from 77 communities including Detroit, which cover 906 square miles of land. In 2011, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality reported that over 45 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage from these 77 communities went into the Rouge and Detroit Rivers. This sewage contained phosphorus, pathogens, heavy metals, and other harmful chemicals. This pollution has also resulted in beach closings and contributes to the algae problem in Lake Erie.
The threat of privatization to DWSD is a huge concern of all of us. Federal Judge Cox’s recent November decision (USA v. City of Detroit) proves this concern to be a reality. When the Clean Water Act was passed, many water departments were not in compliance and as a result the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sued water departments to force them to clean our waterways. In Detroit’s case, the city and the EPA entered into a federal consent decree in 1977 to improve the quality of the Rouge and Detroit Rivers.
While this case has been active over the past 30 plus years, it has helped DWSD improve some of its infrastructure preventing some sewage pollution. However, this case has had serious setbacks as well. Federal Judge Cox’s decision deliberately removes the City Charter provisions related to privatization, so in turn, it sets the stage for privatization. It will now be easier for the regionally represented DWSD Board of Water Commissioners to sell off pieces of Detroit’s public water system to private companies without seeking the approval of Detroit voters. Research conducted by Food & Water Watch shows that after a water system is sold or leased to a private entity, rates typically increase and service declines, as companies attempt to regain their capital investment. The study offers additional trends in water privatization and can be found at the link below.
DWSD needs a plan that truly addresses compliance issues and comes up with long-term solutions for meeting the Clean Water Act and keeping the Rouge and Detroit Rivers free from pollution. Not a decision that abandons the City Charter and removes the public’s right to determine what happens to this public utility.
It’s time for the water department, public officials, and judges to think outside the pipe. We need actions that actually improve our water quality, keep the cost of water affordable, and maintain democratic controls in a public water system. It’s time for change.
For more information
www.peopleswaterboard.blogspot.com or call (313) 965-0055. You can also find the coalition on Facebook or you can attend their monthly meeting, which takes place on the second Monday of every month at 5:30pm at the Metropolitan Center for High Technology building located at 2727 Second Avenue in Detroit.
Trends in Water Privatization http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/trends-in-water-privatization/
EPA Clean Water Act http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/cwa.html