The water department has yet again raised the city water rates and has now laid off employees -- so many that they can't send out workers to fix one of their biggest problems plaguing the city: processed city water flowing down the drain.
In multiple locations all over the city, water flows freely into the street and ground, from hydrants and water mains. It's even flowing freely from abandoned homes where scrappers have stolen the water meters. City officials have acknowledged a few of these leaks and say they do not have the workforce to shut these down and ignore calls for others.
As I type, in the old Packard plant there are two main pipes that are flowing filtered city water right down the drain and these have been leaking for years. There were three, one so bad you could smell the chlorine the city uses in the water from outside the guard shack where the leak was located. I have called the city multiple times, but not until a news report ran did they shut it off. The city was and has been informed that there are still other leaks, but assures people that water has been shut off to the complex for years even though there is photographic and video evidence of said leaks.
There are also leaky hydrants. This now makes it a public safety issue, as it put the fire department at risk of low water pressure, putting them in danger and making it increasingly harder to fight fires. It also dumps city water out of the mains and into the waste system; a fully open hydrant averages 1,000 gallons per minute, so you can imagine one leaking for months on end. A DNR officer sent me a picture of a hydrant on Lincoln just off Marquette that has been leaking for so long there are now cattails and other wetland growth around it on their second season of growth. There is also a new 'green space' developing by the old Fisher Body plant that has been flowing steadily since the warehouse fire that was in the area this past winter. With the fire hydrants being un-metered, there is no way to account for the huge loss.
One of the hardest things the water department will have to face in the coming years will be all the abandoned houses. Scrappers have taken to breaking the water meters out of the basements of these homes. The old meters are made of non-corrosive materials, such as brass or aluminum, and with brass going upwards of $2 a pound, it is a quick and easy score. Since the removal is so violent, the shut-off valves are ruined, and the only way to stop the water from running is from the street or another connection to the water main. It makes you wonder what type of scrap yard exists -- one that appears to be taking in and processing city property?
Having numerous water and sewage employees pounding the streets to shut down all this unmetered water may not immediately save the department from ruin, more layoffs or rate hikes. It will be a step, however, towards a more efficient system, lower rates and job creation. This may not be a feasible option at the moment, but something has to be done to stop the hemorrhaging.