Detroit turns taps back on after outrage over private water control
Read this July 29 story from the Associated Press, via globalnews.ca, on the latest twist in the battle ove water in Detroit.
DETROIT – Control of Detroit’s massive municipal water department, which has been widely criticized by the United Nations and others for widespread service shutoffs to thousands of customers, has been returned to the mayor’s office.
The move comes a week after the department said it would temporarily suspend shutoffs for customers who were 60 days or more behind on bills for 15 days, and a few months ahead of the expected handoff of financial control of the bankrupt city from a state-appointed manager back to Detroit’s elected leaders.
Detroit’s water system serves about 700,000 city residents and 4 million people in southeastern Michigan, but the city-owned water system has about $6 billion in debt that’s covered by bill payments. As of July 1, more than $89 million was owed on nearly 92,000 past-due residential and commercial accounts.
Water officials began an aggressive shut off campaign in March, disconnecting 500 customers that month. More than 3,000 lost service in April and about 4,500 in May.
The shutoffs topped 7,200 in June and collected $800,000 last month compared to about $150,000 in June 2013. But several groups appealed to the UN for support, and three UN experts responded the shutoffs could constitute a violation of the human right to water. A march and other protests also were held in Detroit.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is currently run by a board of commissioners, but the entity reported to previous mayors before the city’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr was appointed as emergency manager in August 2013, a job that tasked him with overseeing the city’s finances and most operations.
The city’s bankruptcy trial is slated to start in mid-August, and Orr’s 18-month term is up in September.
His order, announced Tuesday, July 29, 2014, restores control of the water system to the mayor’s office.
Earlier this month, the federal judge overseeing Detroit’s bankruptcy said the shutoffs were bringing bad publicity, and water officials later disclosed they were suspending the shutoffs to educate customers on payment plans. That grace period is set to end Aug. 6.
Mayor Mike Duggan has said water department officials could have been more sensitive in how they handled delinquent bills and the increased shutoffs. He promised Tuesday to have a “new plan shortly” on how to deal with the issue.