May 22, 2015
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has announced that it is hanging water shut-off notices on Detroit residents’ doors this month, re-starting the internationally notorious, criminal program of cutting off the human right to water.
On April 21, VOD interviewed Demeeko Williams and Beulah Walker of the DETROIT WATER BRIGADE, which estimates that 40 percent of Detroit residents and their families may face shut-offs soon.
The Detroit Water Brigade continues to deliver fresh water to those whose water has been shut off or anyone with no access to water. They are demanding that “the City of Detroit and the newly-formed Great Lakes Water Authority cancel the existing debts of Detroit Water and Sewerage customers and start afresh with simple, affordable rates: all customer past-due balances are wiped clean.”
The city of Detroit has endured decades of economic turmoil, drastic depopulation and repeated mismanagement. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is over $5 billion in debt (over $4,500 per family in the metro Detroit area).To compensate, they have increased rates over 119% in the last decade.¹Residents who fall behind on their bills risk water shutoff, and in 2014 that’s exactly what happened to tens of thousands of Detroiters.
The shutoff program didn’t work, and the DWSD collected less than 3% of the over $100 million currently owed.² A large number of the families who entered into payment plans last year are now defaulting on them yet again because they lack sufficient income.
In contrast, a voluntary bond tender offer initiated during the shutoffs allowed the city to renegotiate high interest rates on municipal water bonds and save over $250 million in interest fees for the city.³
The bond markets know that Detroit’s water debt is junk and the city will unlikely ever be able to pay the current interest rates, which is why Default Trends proclaimed Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) its “Biggest Default of 2014”.⁴
Corruption in the DWSD has been rampant, with former Department head Victor Mercado currently serving an 8-month federal corruption sentence for “conspiracy to commit extortion” by padding department contracts and rigging bids that netted his business associates millions. Although many of those contracts are now being scrutinized by the city’s legal team, Detroiters are still paying dearly for the fraud of past leaders.
The overbearing Detroit water debt has a human side, too: it has pushed Detroit into an outright humanitarian crisis. Rates of infectious disease and sickness are up dramatically, leading the National Nurses union recently to declare a ‘Public Health Emergency’ in Detroit.⁵
The water department is significantly under-staffed and water infrastructure is crumbling, leading to leaks that cost taxpayers tens of millions annually. The department is unable to address these time-sensitive issues due to lack of funding, as it currently spends 46% of its operating revenue on debt service to banks – the largest line-item by far in its budget.
Detroit’s existing water/sewerage rate structure is highly-regressive and unaffordable for too many families. We call on the city to implement the 2005 Water Affordability Plan to ensure that no family pays more than the EPA-recommended threshold for water, including “lifeline rates” for essential quantities of drinking/bathing water.⁶
The water department acknowledges that 90% of its operating costs are fixed⁷, meaning they don’t depend upon how much water is consumed by users. Still, they charge usage-based rates that fluctuate dramatically with weather (up to 18% decrease in usage) and with broader demographic shifts in the region (2/3 of Detroit’s population has left the city since 1950).
Creating a progressive rate structure based at least partially upon a family’s income – as is done with many public services like streetlights, schools, libraries, etc – would more equitably distribute the burden of operating a system relied upon by over 4 million people for essential drinking water.
The Detroit Water Brigade has provided emergency relief and advocacy to hundreds of families since June of 2014, including providing immediate financial assistance to families currently without water.⁸We’ve seen first-hand the disastrous effects of these harsh, debt-driven austerity policies.
We pledge to escalate this campaign in the coming months until we bring relief to the tens of thousands of metro Detroit families living without water today and the millions living precariously with unaffordable water rates.
²Source: DWSD Financials, Sep 15, 2014, p. 61 http://www.dwsd.org/downloads_n/about_dwsd/financials/Finance_Committee_Binder_9-5-2014.pdf
100000 Irish March Through Dublin to Protest Against Water Charges
March 21, 2015
In Ireland, with a population of 5 million, upwards of one hundred thousand took to the streets to protest the new charges for water. The Irish government’s austerity measure has sparked widespread public anger, with Saturday’s street protest the fourth since October.
Tens of thousands of people marched in Dublin on Saturday in the latest protest against the government’s new water charges. It is the latest show of public opposition to the austerity measure put in place by Ireland’s coalition government, which hopes the country’s economic growth will quell the discontent.
Ireland’s economy surged by a post-crisis high of 4.8% last year and is forecast to be the fastest-growing in the European Union again in 2015, but many have been left frustrated by the uneven nature of the recovery.
One year before it seeks re-election, the government has begun directly charging households for water use. It is the final piece of a seven-year, _30bn (£21.7bn) austerity drive, but also the measure that has elicited the largest public backlash. Saturday’s mass protest was the fourth since October.
Organisers said 80,000 protesters marched in the capital – many holding Greek flags to show solidarity with the stricken eurozone member. The national broadcaster, RTE, said the crowd was 30,000 to 40,000 strong.
“This government believes that the anti-water charges campaign is dying, that we are on our last legs. Well, today we have sent them a message,” said Lynn Boylan, a member of the European Parliament for the opposition Sinn Féin party.
“These families simply cannot take any more. The government is pushing people over the edge.”
“This campaign is going from strength to strength. We are on the march. And we will not stop until water charges are scrapped and Irish Water is abolished.
“Sinn Féin warned the government that Irish Water was nothing more than a toxic quango. The citizens of Ireland in their hundreds of thousands told [minister for the environment] Alan Kelly that they cannot and they will not pay.
“Europe has warned the government that their back of the envelope calculations do not stack up. How do they respond? By jailing protestors and spending _650,000 on a new ad campaign; not to mention wasting over _85m on private consultants, _539m wasted on water meters. Hundreds of Garda hours wasted on policing the ill-fated installation of water meters.”
Boylan also questioned how people could pay the charge when they “cannot afford to keep the roof over their head”.
She said: “The lengths that this government will go to defend their precious Uisce Éireann [Ireland’s water company] is astounding. Local authorities have begun the process of handing over the details of tenants. Landlords are being forced to do the same. For Sinn Féin this is a red line issue. Let this message go out loud and clear;: water charges and Irish Water must be consigned to the dustbin of history.”
The trade unions affiliated to the campaign – the CPSU, CWU, Mandate, Opatsi and Unite – are also calling for a referendum to be held “following abolition of the charges” to enshrine public ownership of Irish Water in the Constitution.
The trade unions will present the outline of their draft water management policy at their forthcoming May Day conference.
BELOW: DETROIT WATER BRIGADE PARTICIPATES IN DUBLIN MARCH: FROM DUBLIN TO DETROIT, WATER IS A HUMAN RIGHT!
Detroit Water Brigade website: http://detroitwaterbrigade.org/
DWB Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/waterbrigade?fref=ts
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