Light up the water (and sewerage department)

Light up the water (and sewerage department)

understanding-dwsd-01As plans are leaking about the future operation and management of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, a group of Michigan environmental groups are calling on Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to be more forthcoming with the public.

“It is unclear about what has actually been proposed and whether the concerns of ratepayers are being addressed,” says Nick Schroeck, executive director of The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and author of the letter to Orr. “It’s crazy to think that you have one of the largest municipal water and sewage departments in the country, and with the stroke of a pen, completely change its operation.”

Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling, told Next Chapter over the weekend, that the negotiations are required to be private.

“Right now, all parties – counties, city and state – are under a federal judge’s order not to disclose the details of the mediated discussions or negotiations, under with the DWSD discussions are taking place,” he wrote in an email. “If there is an agreement on forming a new authority, the memo of understanding between the parties will be made public.”

Before any county board, city council or federal bankruptcy court approves the transfer, Nowling said, “the public also will have a chance to examine and weigh in on any proposed deal.”

Forty percent of Michigan’s population and more than 1,000 square miles of area are served by DWSD. In addition, the department is, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the largest producer of phosphorus that ends up in Lake Erie.

DWSD is estimated to be responsible for about 5 percent of the total in the lake’s western basin, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Phosphorous, found in fertilizer, is a major cause of the algae blooms that have been impacting the lake, including killing fish.

“Potential cuts to DWSD and failure to reduce combine sewer overflows and the associated pollution in the Detroit and Rouge rivers should not be allowed to happen,” Schroeck says.

But without a look at any potential DWSD deal, no one knows how any reorganization or restructuring might affect such outputs. Twelve environmental groups, including the law center, are asking for the business to be done in a more illuminating fashion.

“DWSD is responsible not only for providing safe drinking water and effective sanitation services, it is also responsible for helping to ensure that the area’s water resources are conserved and protected,” the letter reads. “For these reasons, it is imperative that the public be kept fully informed of the details of any reorganization of DWSD.”

Nowling says when there is “an agreement in principle,” the city will post it online for public review. It will also be available through bankruptcy court records.

“I would think that all the counties that sign on to any agreement also would post it or otherwise make it available to the public,” he says.

DWSD Orr Letter 1.30.14

The environmental groups involved are:

Alliance for the Great Lakes

American Rivers

Detroit Riverkeeper

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice

Food & Water Watch

Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

Michigan Clean Water Action

Michigan Environmental Council

Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

People’s Water Board Coalition

Rosa Parks Institute

Sierra Club

Michigan Sierra Club

-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

@WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org