By Shea Howell

March 27, 2017

World Water Day passed without a word from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Soon it will be three years since he got control of the Water Department and he has done almost nothing with this power. His direction has failed Detroiters and he is failing the future. His lack of leadership is stunning.

In July of 2014 when he was given control of the Water Department, Mayor Duggan said he welcomed “the responsibility for dealing with the Water Department issues.” He promised a plan to deal with the shut offs, to provide support for people unable to pay their bills and to improve services. None of this has happened.  He has utterly failed to advocate for water as a human right and failed to address concerns for water as a public trust.

Instead, water shutoffs continue with one failed payment support scheme after another. The Mayor stubbornly refuses to make the Water Affordability Plan passed over a decade ago by the City Council a reality. Instead, he continues policies that enrich a private corporation, giving it what seems to be a blank check to go around the city shutting people off. The Homrich Wrecking Company has expanded its original $5.6 million dollar contract for water shut offs to $12.7 million as of last fall. That is as much as the City of Flint paid Detroit for its entire water usage prior to its own man made crisis.

Meanwhile, the Mayor ignores the public health consequences of these shutoffs and he has done little to address the real possibility that new sewerage costs threaten the very existence of hundreds of churches across the city.

Most disturbing is the Mayor’s refusal to provide leadership around the growing global crisis of safe, affordable drinking water. That is why the United Nations has asked people to participate in World Water Day. Since 1993, the UN General Assembly has understood it was essential to draw attention, thinking, and action to water. This year they have especially asked people to consider the implications of wastewater, as we poison the water we depend upon.

The UN declared, “This year, we focus on wastewater and ways to reduce and reuse as over 80% of all the wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature polluting the environment and losing valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials.” Currently, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated.

The Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, framed the issues we face clearly. She said, “Access to safe water and sanitation services is essential to the human rights and dignity, and the survival, of women and men across the world, especially the most disadvantaged.”

Rethinking our understanding of water is critical. She explains, “In the face of growing demand, wastewater can be a reliable alternative source of water – this calls for shifting the paradigm of wastewater management from ‘treatment and disposal’ to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle and resource recovery.’ Wastewater should no longer be seen as a problem, but as part of the solution to challenges that all societies are facing. Treated wastewater can be a cost-efficient, sustainable, safe and reliable alternative source of water for a variety of purposes – from irrigation and industrial uses to drinking water, particularly under conditions of water scarcity. For this, we need to change mind-sets, to raise awareness and redouble educational efforts to share the benefits of wastewater reuse.”

Thousands of people around Michigan understand we need to shift our thinking to see water as a human right and public trust. Many converged in Lansing on World Water Day under the leadership of The People’s Water Board of Detroit. They, not the Mayor, are thinking about the future of all of us.