Thinking for ourselves
Distorted Water Report
By Shea Howell
August 8, 2015
While Mayor Duggan was slushing water ice to welcome in another downtown business, the water assistance advisory group of the newly emerging Great Lakes Water Authority issued a draft statement. Tasked with establishing the foundation of a water assistance plan, the draft developed by the Project team is seriously flawed. If the Mayor thinks this will legitimize his failed efforts to address the water crisis, he is mistaken.
There is so much wrong with the Water Residential Assistance Plan (WRAP) it is hard to know where to begin. The document was submitted by Eric Rothstein to the Authority and was also sent to the project design team for their final sign off.
Rothstein explains, “Note that the GLWA Board is receiving this version and been advised of the pending review process — all to help expedite development of final report language and ensure receptivity upon presentation of the WRAP Design.”
So at this stage, we should not expect any major changes in the final document. It reveals how little the WRAP group understands what is happening in the city.
The Report evades the GLWA responsibility to resolve the international tragedy of water shut offs to thousands of people throughout Detroit. Instead the Program Design Report is putting in place an assistance plan that will spread shut offs into neighboring suburban counties.
The report begins with a clear statement of how inadequate the plan is for meeting the current needs. It reads:
While we know these funds will not fulfill the need today, our recommended program builds awareness, generates support, and provides a foundation to raise funds to diminish future need for assistance through bill assistance, conservation and self-sufficiency initiatives. Our recommended program complements your collective commitment to efficient and effective water and sewer service delivery that will help ensure that all GLWA customers service costs are as reasonable and reflective of the value of the service as practicable.
Filled with meaningless words like “reasonable,” “practicable,” “efficient,” and “effective,” this plan acknowledges it cannot accomplish the straightforward goals of stopping water shut offs, restoring service to thousands of people, and preventing future shut offs.
This group of “professionals and committed people” threw up their hands in surrender, knowing full well the need is greater than the funds generated. This is a criminal evasion of responsibility.
It sets in motion principles and practices that will doom the Authority to ever expanding shut offs and provides useless information about services that are unable to respond to the need. Further, by touting “conservation,” the Program Design ensures that their success will lead to the system’s failure.
This out of date mode of financing that depends on assistance is inherently anti-conservation. The reality is that as people conserve and use less water, the system actually generates less money than predicted, thus it must raise rates. When it raises rates, more people cannot pay, others conserve more, and the new Authority becomes mired in an ever-increasing downward spiral of shut offs and upward spiral of higher rates. To understand this self-defeating strategy, just take a look at the arguments for the most recent rate hike in Detroit of 7.5%.
The advisory group report also recognizes that the problem of Affordable Water goes well beyond Detroit. Looking at their own projections we find, “The numbers are daunting – indicating that over 685,000 individuals are living below the poverty line in the three largest counties [Wayne, Oakland and Macomb] in the GLWA service area.”
There is a clear alternative to this assistance based approach. It is an income based plan modeled on the one recently adopted in Philadelphia as well as other cities.
As it stands right now, the Draft Proposal, should be withdrawn. We deserve more thought than this document demonstrates. We deserve a true Water Affordability Plan.