By Shea Howell
November 29, 2015
At the beginning of the New Year, the Great Lakes Water Authority will take over responsibility for providing water to more than 4 million people. This new Authority is the product of the bankruptcy process and has been unfolding behind closed doors under court control.
What we do know is not reassuring. Management of the Detroit elements of the water department has been placed under the leadership of Gary Brown. Mr. Brown has absolutely no claim of expertise on water systems. A blue ribbon committee has been appointed to explore water affordability, but the committee intentionally excluded all local community advocates for water affordability from its deliberations.
These plans are unfolding in an atmosphere of heightened distrust of the state authorities charged with the responsibility of protecting the quality of our water supply. What has become obvious to everyone is that the Governor, his appointed financial mangers, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are more interested in saving money than protecting lives and health. They are also willing to lie and cover up mistakes rather than protect public health. The debacle in Flint, highlighted a system that is fundamentally broken. The continued water shut offs in Detroit highlight a system that is fundamentally unsustainable.
While virtually all legal authorities have refused to seriously discuss how to provide safe, affordable water, citizens have organized a variety of responses. In response to the failures of government, people in Flint developed sophisticated water testing systems. People in Detroit have been pressuring for an income based water affordability plan and have organized to provide fresh water to those shut off from city supplies. Churches and community centers have set up official “water stations” and unofficially neighbors are stretching hoses across yards, or sharing tap water in homes.
Over the first 12 days of December, Detroiters are organizing a series of events to continue to pressure officials for a serious water affordability plan based on income. They are also pressuring State Legislative officials to provide an expanded legal framework to support and protect water as a human right and precious resource.
As the Great Lakes Water Authority takes shape, the choices we make to frame it will shape the future of our city and our region. Will we continue to be guided by a desire to save money and do things as cheaply as possible, or will we face the difficult questions of how to ensure that all people have access to the sustenance of life?
This crisis of water is a crisis of values. It is an opportunity for us to establish a new basis of responsibilities to one another and for our earth. Join the events welcoming in December by doing what you can to ensure justice for water.