New regional water authority formalized to operate water, sewer system for Detroit area

Associated Press

A new regional authority was formalized Friday to take over operations of Detroit's water and sewer system, a move that's designed to limit future rate increases and improve the system's aging infrastructure.

A board representing Detroit, its surrounding counties and the state signed on to the Great Lakes Water Authority deal. The suburbs will pay Detroit $50 million a year for 40 years and get a say in how the system is run.

Continue Reading Below

"This is an historic step forward in resolving decades of conflict between Detroit and our suburban neighbors," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. "Detroit will have the resources we need to rebuild our city's crumbling water and sewer pipes."

Detroit's water system serves about 700,000 city residents and 4 million people in southeastern Michigan. Detroit's plan to emerge from bankruptcy approved last year called for the deal to be in place by Sunday. Under the agreement, Detroit retains ownership of the system.

As part of the change, a new $4.5 million assistance fund will be available to help low-income families. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department faced protests last year following shutoffs to residents with delinquent accounts, but other efforts to curb that have already taken place.

The vote was 5-1 to approve the Great Lakes Water Authority. Macomb County's representative, Brian Baker, voted against the deal, saying it could mean substantially higher water bills for suburban customers.

"We're paying more with too little say," Baker said.

Gary Brown, one of Detroit's members and the city's chief operating officer, said he disagreed with Baker's assessment.

"There was never any intent to shift costs to any community, and I think this lease has done an outstanding job in ensuring every community, including Detroit, will be responsible for collections and pulling their own weight," Brown said.