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What's increasing Detroit-area water rates?

Detroit water director says Flint's departure, lower water demand are partly to blame

DETROIT – The Detroit Water and and Sewerage Department's (DWSD) director says water costs will increase 6 percent, but it's likely to be more like 9 percent by the time the bill hits your mailbox.

The DWSD has a lot of fixed costs such as pipes and pumping stations, but the demand for water is going down.

The last year has been tough for Director Sue McCormick's department. The city of Flint left the system and a rainy summer left people not watering their lawns. That means a lot of revenue stopped flowing into the DWSD.

However, the costs -- such as bond debt -- didn't.

"And so that cost is still in the budget and the budget still has to be met, and so each community will pick up a little cost associated with Flint coming off the system," said McCormick.

She claims some communities have been gaming the system. It works like this: The more water you buy, the less it costs. Some communities have been ordering a lot more water than they're using so they can enjoy high-volume discounts.

McCormick hopes to change that in the budget and planning process by requiring communities to estimate water use based on an average of the past two years.

"We're being responsible by controlling costs -- no budget change. We're being responsible by addressing what is, in effect, an equity and fairness issue between communities," said McCormick.

Some communities might see that part of their rates go down a little bit. Whenever water rates go up there is frustration.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel is fuming because, he says, confusion is lighting up his office phones.

"People were given this impression that rates were only going to go up 4 percent, and now they're looking at across-the-board an over 9-percent increase, and thinking that's because of this new authority, which isn't true. So it's kind of a last attempt with Detroit water and sewer to figure out how to balance their books by raising rates that we have absolutely no control over," he said.

Hackel said he would like to see more transparency by the DWSD. The hope is the new regional water authority will address his transparency concerns. Hackel said making the counties pay for the current system's overruns is part of the need for that authority.


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