Alert covers the broadest area in Detroit’s history
DWSD retiree leader Bill Davis: “The GLWA doesn’t care about Blacks and minorities”
Continues beyond the “48 hours” the GLWA first estimated, now GLWA says PREMATURELY it will lift alert after second round of tests
Can GLWA be trusted?
By Diane Bukowski
March 1, 2017 Updated March 2, 2017
DETROIT – The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) belatedly issued a boil water alert for massive areas of Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck last night. It cited a two-hour drop in water pressure from an pump failure at the Water Works Park water treatment plant, which may have caused bacterial contamination. The failure occurred at 5 p.m. and lasted for at least two hours, GLWA Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Porter told the Detroit City Council.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department issued a more extensive advisory than the one paragraph issued by the GLWA, which runs the plant. DWSD told people living and working in areas south of McNichols to the riverfront and Linwood east to Conner in the City of Detroit, along with the Cities of Highland Park and Hamtramck, to boil water before drinking it, or using it to prepare food and cook, while the water is sampled and tested for bacterial contamination.
“Bring all water to a boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using . . . for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice,” the DWSD alert said. “The boil water notice shall remain in effect for the defined area until results from the sampling verify the water is safe to drink. CUSTOMERS WILL BE ADVISED WHEN THE BOIL WATER ADVISORY HAS BEEN LIFTED.” (See full DWSD alert at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/DWSD-Boil-Water-Advisory.pdf.)
The GLWA and some of the mainstream media first reported that the alert would last for 48 hours, creating ongoing confusion in the three cities, but Porter cautioned that people should wait until the alert is officially lifted after tests are completed.
“It’s my personal belief that the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) doesn’t care about the people of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, because they have too many Blacks and minorities,” Bill Davis, a retired Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) supervisor, told VOD.
“If we were still under the DWSD, there would have been an immediate alert, but the GLWA chose to sit on it. Gary Brown [head of what’s left of the DWSD] didn’t even know about it until this morning.”
Davis said any bacterial contamination from the water pressure drop meanwhile created risks, particularly for children and elderly people. He said massive staff cutbacks at DWSD before and since the GLWA took it over likely contributed to the failure.
“I’ve been telling this City Council and this Mayor since 2013 that something like this was likely to happen,” Davis said. He said there has not been a massive boil water alert like this in Detroit’s previous history to his knowledge.
He added that the Flint water crisis began with a similar drop in water pressure, which allowed lead contamination of that city’s pipes to leach into water that was moving sluggishly instead of at its full rate of speed. Davis also blamed repeated flooding in the GLWA region from rainstorms on massive staff cutbacks at plants like the Wastewater Treatment Plant downriver, where he worked. Three major sewage pumps there were non-functional in 2014 as a result of a lack of 24/7 maintenance.
GLWA CEO Sue McCormick told the GLWA board March 1 that she and her staff first contacted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) drinking water division to find out what to do. Unlike her COO Porter, who previously also served as COO at DWSD, she said the alert would be over after 48 hours.
“This is a very unfortunate circumstance that resulted in what I would call an electrical mechanical failure,” McCormick said in response to a question from VOD, ironically at the GLWA’s public hearing on new water and sewerage rates March 1.
“It’s a systems control issue from a valve operator,” McCormick went on. “The valve was closing inappropriately causing pumps to back off as the water was starting. We know pressure sagged in the process—particularly in the system from the other plants that would pick up that flow. That worked less effectively than we hoped it would. So we had pressure sag. We know the extent of that pressure sag based on the number of complaints we received in the area. In conversation with MDEQ drinking water division we discussed how we should notify the public. So we issued what I would call a precautionary boil water alert. While today we don’t have any evidence that the system depressurized to the extent that contaminants could have entered the system through the ground or from buildings, we won’t know the result of our tests for 48 hours. So we are suggesting that people in the area boil their water for that time.”
On March 2, the GLWA reported regarding tests conducted only in one day, “While these results are a sign that there is nothing wrong with the water, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is requiring the boil water advisory remain in effect throughout the originally stated 48-hour time period. A second round of test results will be returned tomorrow and upon a second clear result, GLWA will recommend that the boil water advisory be lifted. GLWA will provide additional updates as soon as they are available.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan signed the contract turning the six-county DWSD, the larges asset of the largest Black-majority city in the U.S., over to the GLWA, except for a few minor mains in Detroit, in June, 2015. The GLWA was created during the bankruptcy proceedings in 2014 despite ongoing protests by city workers, residents and others who warned of dire consequences.