Benjamin Franklin once wrote "When the well is dry, we will know the worth of water." Detroit's well is in danger of more than just running dry. Efforts are under way to seize control of Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department, taking it away from the people and putting it into the hands of a private company. If this happens the people of Detroit will have no well at all.
The well is running dry in places around the world and we are quickly realizing the true value of water. Today most of us may be worried about the price of a gallon of gas, but in the not too distant future, we will be more worried about the price of a gallon of water. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department belongs to the people of Detroit. The system was built by bonds issued by the city, without help from the state or surrounding communities. It is in Detroit's best interest to maintain control of its water and sewerage system, with decisions about its future being decided by the people. Any attempt to sell DWSD without a vote of the people would not only violate the city charter, but the state constitution as well. Michigan's Constitution clearly states that no city shall sell a public utility without the approval of the voters. To usurp this constitutional right is to disenfranchise the voters and make a mockery of our democracy.
The possibility for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to be taken out of the hands of the people and turned over to private interests has come closer to being a reality due to both legislative efforts and the results of judicial review. Both seek to form a board the gives partial control of the department to entities outside of the city. The judiciary has been successful in that attempt, but for now, the majority of seats are controlled by Detroiters. As we all know, control is ownership. While there are certainly issues with the Water and Sewerage Department that need to be addressed, the solutions should not come from a judge's ruling or legislative deals made in Lansing. Those kinds of solutions will pollute our well and make it toxic. Instead, we need open, more transparent leadership that involves the citizens of Detroit, the stakeholders, in the decision-making process.
The citizens also need to be aware of who it is that has their sights on our well and is attempting to influence the conversation in Lansing. The legislation introduced that would take control of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department out of the hands of the people of Detroit and into the hands of a governing board comes from the play book of the Mackinac Center.
This conservative, pro-big business group has a long history of supporting corporate interests over the needs of people. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is the third largest provider of water and waste water services in the United States. It currently runs as a non-profit basing its rates solely on the costs of providing services. If the Mackinac Center had its way, Detroit Water would be turned over to a private corporation, whose sole motivation would be profit. As water is an essential element for life, the people of Detroit would have little choice but to pay the increased rates charged by the new corporate owners of our well.
Water is a precious, life-giving resource, not a commodity to be exploited by greed. The only way to ensure it stays that way is to keep Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, our well, in the hands and control of the people.