Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Detroit Regional Water Authority talks in the news

It only took eight months, but the other shoe that I expected to drop in WXYZ follows up on DIA has fallen* and the thud of its impact reported, as WXYZ describes in Debate over the future of the Detroit Water Department.

Nine billion dollars and one vote for each of the suburban counties?  I'm not with L. Brooks Patterson on much, but I am with him on this; it's too imbalanced.  For starters, there are more counties involved than just Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb.  As the map above shows, both Washtenaw and Monroe counties are also using Detroit's water and are likely to remain in the system, so they deserve votes as well.  Genesee, Lapeer, and St. Clair are currently connected to the system, but the contract with the City of Flint and Genesee County will be terminated this year, so Genesee and Lapeer, along with Sanilac County, are forming the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA).  Construction of the pipeline for the KWA began last year, but won't be finished until next year.  Joining that instead of a Detroit-based regional water authority is Patterson's backup position if he doesn't like the price Detroit is offering.

Also, I can see that the total price of paying off the debts and upgrading the infrastructure would be $9 billion, but fobbing it all off on the suburbs is too much.  Adding two more counties and Detroit taking more of its share might make the price tag for each county more palatable.  That written, even what Detroit is asking would be better than privatizing the system.  Follow over the jump for my opinion of privatization and what I think a reasonable proposal would look like.

*Here's what I wrote back in May.
In addition to the DIA, the report mentions Belle Isle, the water system, and Manoogian Mansion.  Of those, the one that would have the greatest impact would be the water system, which I pointed out during the first month of this blog in Water wars, Detroit style, plus a programming note.  Privatization of the water system could lead to a situation much like that I described in Greenfinger.
Suez, a Vivendi affiliate, actually took over the water supply in a city in Bolivia, then lost control as a result of massive protests.
That would affect not just the 700,000+ people of Detroit, but the 4,000,000 people in the service area, which covers nearly all of Metro Detroit and then some, as parts of Washtenaw and Genesee counties get water from Detroit.  It's one of the reasons why I expressed interest in Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner; whoever occupies that position would be on the front lines of dealing with the issue, particularly if the solution is a regional board, not privatization.  Here's to hoping that Jim Nash, the new Commissioner, is up to the task.
Back in March, there was an entire comment thread about the topic over at Michigan Liberal.  The first person in the thread mentioned privatization, saying "I can easily see Nestle or some other corporation gaining control of public water on the cheap via the EMF law."  I had two reactions to that.
There's a lot for the suburbs to oppose in this.  A privately run water company would hurt them, too.  Time to start getting the Drain Commissioners and Water Resource Commissioners on board with stopping privatization.
When told that they might not realize this, I replied "How about I make it my personal crusade that they do?  That's not a rhetorical question."  It still isn't.

The highest-rated comment from Mark Grebner summarizes what I think would be a reasonable proposal.
Detroit ought to sell DWSD to a consortium which consists of all the users of the system, with voting rights distributed according to system use. My guess at a purchase price would be $2 billion.  From that point on, the regional water board would face the correct balance of interests, leading to better cost controls and more interest in maintenance and upkeep.  And Detroit's use of its control to fleece the suburbs would be at an end.

The state legislation that brings this about should place the money into a trust, to be used exclusively for Detroit's benefit, but subject to oversight to ensure the money isn't used to delay the day of financial reckoning for the city at large.  Since it would be one-time money, it shouldn't be used to finance continuing expenditures.

Of course, 1) Detroit isn't willing to part with DWSD, because its politicians will lose their ability to loot it, 2) the suburbs will continue to be unwilling to actually pay to purchase control, since they hope somehow to steal the system, and 3) the State won't propose anything useful, preferring to preach.

So, never mind.
I told Grebner "That's an idea that makes too much sense to happen.  That written, I think it's exactly what needs to be done."


  1. Everyone is interconnected and water knows no political boundaries, it flows regardless, depending on topography. You are not crazy, Eddie - just well informed, thank you ! - https://twitter.com/Willi_H2O/status/436206548667207681/photo/1

    1. Custom-crafted on-topic spam. I like it. It stays.