Peoples Water Board remains vigilant over water access issues in Detroit

July 17, 2011

DETROIT -- Detroit’s high number of water shut offs and the potential privatization of the city’s water system continue to be a major concern for the members of the Peoples Water Board whose mission is for:  access & affordability, protection, & conservation  and the water system to be remain in the public trust free from privatization in the City of Detroit.

“The biggest issue over all these past two years and going forward has been the overwhelming loss of access to water for residential use via thousands of shut offs and the failure of the City of Detroit to implement the original Water Affordability Plan of 2006,” said PWB member Charity Hicks. “There’s also the threat and push towards a hostile takeover of the people of the City of Detroit's water infrastructure system and privatize it, via state action.”

Despite a long-standing history of maintaining sole control of its own water system while operating as a municipal non-profit-enterprise agency  amidst persistent attempts by suburban interests, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing capitulated under the pressure of a well-orchestrated media campaign and political maneuvering to erode control of the city’s water system, which also services multiple outlying sprawling suburban communities. Although news of the future of the city’s water system has since disappeared from the headlines of the mainstream press, the People’s Water Board urges Detroiters to be vigilant on the issue so that Detroit’s water system doesn’t follow a growing trend among Rust Belt communities and move toward privatization.
“We knew it was coming because you can hear the chatter and the consistent privatizing and selling/transfer of Detroit assets,” Hicks said.

The Peoples Water Board Detroit started in 2009 from a series of meetings around access and affordability of water and pollution issues. The meetings were led by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) and the Sierra Club Great Lakes Program. The meetings centered around water-quality and conservation issues. Local labor groups were also involved in looking at the significant privatizing of the local water system.
The coalition decided in the spring 2009 to conduct a series of organizing meetings to set up a "Peoples Water Board" to research, advocate, and movement build around various water issues in Detroit. The coalition also felt it necessary to watch and monitor the existing municipal water board serving at the pleasure of the Mayor of Detroit.  The People’s Water Board hopes to work with the Municipal Water Board of Commissioners to make our water affordable, fishable, swimmable, and kept safe in the public commons.

There are nine commissioners on the Peoples Water Board of Detroit and several  observers. Gwen Gaines and Ann Grimmett, both of MWRO, work on water access and affordability. Melissa Damasche of the Sierra Club’s Great Lakes Water Program-Detroit, and Derek Grigsby of the Green Party also serve working on pollution control and conservation. Andre Martin of MECAWI and John Rhiel of ASCME 207 serve representing water being held in the commons free from privatization. The three at large positions on the board are filled by Priscilla Dziubek of EMEAC, Lila Cabill of the Rosa Parks Institute and Hicks, who also is one of the founding members and current secretary for the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

The founding coalition members are: Sierra Club, MWRO, Rosa Parks Institute, AFSCME Local 207, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Detroit Green Party, and Matrix Theatre. Several persons, organizations and projects observe and work with the coalition in promoting awareness of water issues in Detroit. The newest group is Food & Water Watch has recently joined the coalition while several hundred individual supporters have signed on to the PWB mission statement.

“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.”

“We have conducted a film series in conjunction with Detroit Public Library to raise awareness on water issues, stenciled storm drain covers to remind residents not to dump, petitioned Municipal Water Board to stop all residential water shut offs, represented the coalition at 2010 U.S. Social Forum Peoples Movement Assembly,” Hicks said. “We want to cross pollinate movement building by attending gatherings to relationship build. We also blog to tell our story, conduct email campaigns and write letters to the editor to voice our coalition’s position.”

“We’ve met with congressional and state leadership on water issues such as pollution, and  infrastructure costs to learn about federal and state programs. We’ve toured the waste water treatment plant to understand our infrastructure needs and capacity while monitoring the permit process of DWSD. We’ve reviewed contracts, researched and reviewed the consent degree and federal over sight on DWSD. We’ve held a monthly informational picket at the monthly Municipal Water Board meetings, disseminated flyers and information. We’ve presented with Matrix Theatre on World Water Day 2009 with youth and community. We’ve held a poster contest for school children, tabled at River Days with the Friends of Belle Isle and other significant and powerful work. Over the past two years we hope we have raised awareness, engaged citizens and policy makers, and called the question on DWSD for greater transparency, democracy, and improvement in the quality of life of residents.”  For more information on the Peoples Water Board Detroit, visit: