- United Nations Criticizes Detroit for Water Shutoffs
- February 18, 2015 | Author: Amanda R. Yurechko
- Law Firm: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., L.P.A. - Cleveland Office
- Two United Nations (UN) experts released a report in late October urging the City of Detroit to restore water service to the more than 27,000 people who had been shut off this year.1 The experts released their report after 72 hours in the city meeting with those affected by the shutoffs. The report finds that the "most vulnerable and poorest" of the city's population were being disproportionately affected, including a predominant number of African Americans. Detroit, already struggling with high unemployment and high levels of poverty, as well as its own bankruptcy, has relatively high water rates for its residential citizens. The report also found that Detroit Water and Sewerage Department may be charging these customers excess usage due to its own crumbling infrastructure, including leaks, and its billing department's "lack of competence in dealing with errors in billing or requests for assistance."2 Many of the shutoffs occurred without notice, and there is no appeal process in place to restore the connection if the bill was unjust.3
In contrast, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan objects to the findings. "It's unfortunate they came here with an agenda and they had so much information that was just flat out wrong," said Alexis Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff.4 "We've gotten more than 15,000 people on payment plans since August.5
"We have more than $2 million in water assistance available to help families who are having a hard time. We went through each and every thing they said in that meeting and we made it clear the information they had wasn't accurate."6 The Mayor's office further noted that Metro Detroit will be able to tap into a $4.5 million annual fund to help pay water bills once the Regional Great Lakes Water Authority is established.7 If the agreement previously reached between the Mayor of the City of Detroit, the Chief Executives of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, is approved and implemented, the creation of the Regional Great Lakes Water Authority will create a more financially stable regional water system.8
If the new RGLWA is established, the city of Detroit will retain ownership of its 3,000 miles of local pipes and lease its 300 miles of suburban pipes to the local communities in which they are located. These communities will pay the city of Detroit $50 million per year for the next 40 years. The new source of funding will allow Detroit to rebuild its aging infrastructure. The majority of Detroit's water mains are 70-90 years old over the last year the City has suffered through 5,000 water main breaks.
The RGLWA plan was established before the UN visit, but the need to implement the plan has been highlighted on the international stage. The UN seemed to object to any shut off of water service based on the customer's inability to pay.9 The report suggests that those customers with the means to pay should pay higher rates to ensure those who cannot, do not get shut-off.10 Mayor Duggins notes that the problems Detroit is facing may be magnified due to the City's financial situation, but that no water district in the United States follows this model.11