By Gwendolyn Gaines, Ann Rall, and Sylvia Orduno, MWRO
In a collective community response to local water concerns, several Detroit-based organizations have formed the People’s Water Board.
The People’s Water Board is a direct response to the corporate and corrupt Detroit Water and Sewerage Department — the municipal water provider for most cities and towns in southeast Michigan. The coalition includes representatives from Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), Green Party Detroit, Sierra Club, Call ‘em Out, Moratorium Now, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, AFSCME Local 207, Michigan Emergency Coalition Against War and Inequality (MECAWI), and Rosa Parks Institute.
The People’s Water Board was formed in March 2009 to address many community issues and needs, including the poor representation of the people’s concerns on the DWSD Board of Water Commissioners. Among the first steps of the People’s Water Board is ensuring that there is a representative voice of the people on local water issues. To accomplish this, the People’s Water Board identified several short and long-term goals such as ensuring access to water for all people (including getting the Water Affordability Plan on the November 2009 Detroit ballot); protecting water quality and water conservation; and opposing privatization of water resources.
The People’s Water Board mission statement reads:
Water is life. The People’s Water Board advocates for access, protection, and conservation of water. We believe water is a human right and all people should have access to clean and affordable water. Water is a commons that should be held in the public trust free of privatization. The People’s Water Board promotes awareness of the interconnectedness of all people and resources.
A politically appointed Board of Water Commissioners who have neglected and ignored the concerns of residents and public officials oversees the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD). Between June 2002-June 2003, 40, 752 households had their water shut-off. This was the beginning of a long campaign for local residents and grassroots groups to bring attention to the water crisis in Detroit. When the original Water Affordability Plan was brought to the DWSD Board in 2004, they sat on it. Michigan Welfare Rights and several groups in the People’s Water Board marched in front of the DWSD many times to get former Director, Victor Mercado, and the Board of Water Commissioners to enact this water affordability and shut-off prevention plan for low-income customers. After four years, local officials would agree only to a watered-down assistance plan that is administered by the City of Detroit’s Human Services Department. The Board is also instrumental in DWSD privatization efforts by approving outsourced work and bids, many of which go regularly over budget.
The People’s Water Board will vigilantly watch the proceedings of each DWSD Board meeting. At the last Board meeting, Commissioner Ken Daniels proposed a $500 fine for people who turn their water back on themselves. He also recommended that fines increase for successive infractions. The DWSD Board voted to approve a charge of $100 for anyone who turns on their shut-off water.
The People’s Water Board will continue to bring these issues and more to the forefront of residents, the media, pubic officials, and the DWSD. Future People’s Water Board meetings will be on July 20, August 24, September 21, October 26, November 16, and December 14 at the Michigan Center for High Technology building (2727 Second Ave, Detroit). All concerned residents are invited to participate! For more information, contact Melissa Damaschke at the Sierra Club (313) 965-0055, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National People’s Summit and Tent City was held in June in Detroit, Michigan, the former auto capital of the world. Detroit now has a 23% unemployment rate. The activities protested the closing of 14 plants and the laying off of G.M. workers and put forth a vision of a society where everyone’s needs are met. It was called in response to a meeting of executives held at GM’s world headquarters.