TEACH-IN

ON DETROIT AND FLINT
WATER CRISES

www.d-rem.org

This reader was developed by D-REM.
We encourage you to share it widely,
to discuss it with friends, family, and neighbors,
to affirm that water is a commons and a human right.
Printed January 2016

 

1  

TEACH-IN ON DETROIT AND FLINT WATER CRISES
Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM)
Readings and Resources
Saturday January 16, 2016
Readings for Detroit Water Struggle
Judge Calls Detroit’s Prosecution of Water Shutoff Protesters a ‘Disaster’
Last Vestige of Democracy
Emergency Mismanagement of Water
Statement on Water Affordability vs. Water Assistance
On Water Issues, it’s Detroit Versus the U.N.
Statement on the Proposed Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA)
Water, Dispossession, and Resistance
Readings for Flint Water Struggle
Flint Efficiency
Some Common Misunderstandings of Flint’s Lead in Water Problem
When Did State Know Kids in Flint Were Lead Poisoned?
Flint's State of Emergency is a Sign that Democracy is Working There Again
How Michigan's Emergency Management Law Poisoned Flint's Children
Flint Water and the No Blame Game
Flint Water Stories
Additional Resources for Detroit Water Struggle
Websites, Films, and Interviews
Additional Resources for Flint Water Struggle
Websites, Films, and Interviews

 

2  

Judge Calls Detroit’s Prosecution of Water Shutoff Protesters a ‘Disaster’
Detroit Metro Times
By Curt Guyette, December 23, 2015
In the summer of 2014, as the city of Detroit was shutting off water to thousands of
homes a week, a group of activists resorted to civil disobedience in an attempt to
draw attention to the crisis.
They gathered before sunrise on East Grand Boulevard, outside a facility operated
by Homrich, the demolition/environmental contractor paid more than $5 million to
conduct the shutoffs.
About 20 people marched, chanted, sang songs, and blocked the gate to the
company's parking lot.
Detroit police were on the scene early and spent much of the day watching from
the sidelines. Finally, a blue police bus was called in to take away nine protesters
who essentially asked to be arrested in an attempt to put the issue of water shutoffs in front of a jury.
One protester was never charged with a crime, and another settled the case without
going to trial. Now, more than 18 months later, the cases of the seven remaining
protesters — each facing one misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct — have
yet to be settled, with the Detroit Law Department dragging out the proceedings
with one legal maneuver after another.
In late November, the city's obstructionism hit a new low, according to attorneys
representing the protesters.
In documents filed with Wayne County Circuit Court, attorneys for the protesters
contend that city lawyers twice engaged in "unethical and illegal ex
parte" meetings with Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway.
(To ensure that due process rights are protected, both sides are supposed to be
present during meetings with a judge; meetings where that doesn't happen are
referred to as "ex parte.")
At least twice during the prosecution of the Homrich protesters city attorneys met
with a judge without telling defense attorneys beforehand.
In court on Friday, Linda Fegins, an attorney for the city, denied any wrongdoing
on the city's part.
But Judge Robert J. Colombo, chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court, had a
decidedly different opinion, saying during a court proceeding Friday that the ex
parte meetings should not have occurred the way they did.
 

3  

"That should never happen," he said. "Never."
Secret meetings
The first secret meeting occurred in November, just before seven of the protesters
were set to go to trial in front of 36th District Court Judge Garrett.
Two of the protesters — longtime community activists Marian Kramer and the
Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann — were supposed to have their cases heard by a jury.
Another five defendants would participate in what is known as a "bench trial," with
the judge rendering a verdict. All seven were to be tried at the same time, in front
of the same judge.
The trial was set to begin Nov. 18.
One day prior to the start of that trial, however, attorneys for the city — without
informing defense attorneys — met with Hathaway and obtained an emergency
order stopping the bench trial over five protesters from going forward.
"At no time were any of the defense attorneys given any opportunity to be heard in
opposition to this unethical and illegal ex parte motion for a stay of proceedings,"
asserted defense attorneys in court documents.
Making the case for action
Although the bench trial of five protesters had been postponed, the jury trial of
Kramer and Wylie-Kellermann (who represented himself) was allowed to proceed
as scheduled. A jury was selected, opening statements made, and, over the course
of seven days, witnesses took the stand and testified.
Prior to closing arguments on Nov. 30, attorneys for the city asked Judge Ruth Ann
Garrett to declare a mistrial, claiming that the jury had wrongly been allowed to
hear "highly inflammatory and unduly prejudicial testimony."
Essentially, the defense wanted to establish why the protesters took the actions that
they did.
The city argued that allowing the jury to take those motivating factors into
consideration was inappropriate. Garrett disagreed, and the trial was allowed to
proceed. Closing arguments were made.
An attorney for the city told jurors that the defense was, in essence, throwing
everything it could "against the wall" in an attempt to "see what would stick." But
none of that, she argued, was relevant. There was only one simple and
straightforward fact the jury needed to consider: Did the defendants engage in an
act of disorderly conduct?

 

4  

For his part, Wylie-Kellermann made a point of reiterating the prosecutor's point of
who wasn't on trial.
The city of Detroit wasn't on trial, he noted. The Department of Water and
Sewerage wasn't on trial. The unelected emergency manager who ordered the mass
shut-offs wasn't on trial. The contractor being paid millions of dollars to shut off
people's water wasn't on trial.
Speaking slowly and softly, appearing slightly disheveled in an inexpensive sports
coat, Wylie-Kellermann then delivered a line that summed up the essential point
that propelled him and the other protesters to push the issue as far as they have:
"I'm on trial," he said, placing a hand to his chest. "Marian Kramer is on trial. And
I submit that, at this moment in history in Detroit, all of us are on trial."
In other words, it wasn't just a legal issue at stake. It was also a moral issue.
After Kramer's attorney, John Royal, made his closing argument, the jury was
poised to begin deliberations.
But they never got the chance.
Shortly before deliberations were set to begin, attorneys for the city informed the
defense and Garrett that Hathaway, as the result of another ex parte hearing —
which included the city's chief attorney, Melvin "Butch" Hollowell — had issued
an order halting proceedings.
It was, defense attorneys now argue, an "unprecedented step" to halt a jury trial
while in progress in a case involving a "minor city ordinance violation."
Or, as Kramer told reporters shortly after the deal went down, "The jury was
seated, and was ready to go in and do their job, and it was snatched from up under
them."
In a court appearance Friday, defense attorney Julie Hurwitz stated that, based on
transcripts of the second ex parte hearing, attorneys for the city "blatantly
misrepresented the truth" when they assured Hathaway that the defense had been
given notification of the proceedings.
Jumping the rails
On Friday, after Hathaway refused a defense motion to remove himself from
further rulings in the case, the action moved to Colombo's courtroom. He agreed
that the ex parte hearings should never have been allowed to occur, but that
Hathaway had done nothing to justify being removed from the case.
Declaring that the case "has gotten way off track," Colombo looked at where things
stand and determined: "This is a disaster."
 

5  

Members of the jury are still waiting to hear if they will ever be called back. The
five defendants whose bench trial was postponed still have not been able to have
their day in court. There are a host of issues that would have to be decided upon
appeal for any of the trials to move forward.
All over a case involving seven peaceful protesters charged with the misdemeanor
offense of disorderly conduct.
Colombo's recommendation was a settlement conference — which he offered to
preside over — with the goal of having the city drop all charges.
The mindboggling bottom line, though, was articulated by Hurwitz in an interview:
"The fact that the city so threatened by these activists that its attorneys would go to
such lengths, to the point where they would take actions that threaten their own
professional reputations, is quite astounding."

Last Vestige of Democracy
Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell, December 5, 2015
The outcome of the trial against two of the defendants who blocked trucks from
shutting off water to Detroiters is unclear. In an unprecedented move, Wayne
County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway intervened and halted the trial of
the two of the Homrich 9 on the eve of closing arguments.
The trial had been going on for more than a week, providing a defense of
civil disobedience before an all black jury in the 36th District Court Room of
Judge Ruth Ann Garret. Garret was the second judge to preside over the efforts to
bring this case to a jury. Defendants Bill Wiley-Kellerman and Marian Kramer had
fought for a jury trial, trusting that Detroiters would recognize that their actions
were justified.
In an opening statement to the jury the Reverend Bill Wiley Kellerman
explained, “I and others have waited a long time to bring this case to you. It’s now
going on a year and a half, but events are still vivid to us, because they were full of
meaning. When we were arraigned last summer, we asked immediately for a jury
 

6  

trial. Back then, you may remember that every elected official in the City of
Detroit had been replaced by one man – the Emergency Manager – who had put
the city into bankruptcy. The elected school board had been replaced by emergency
management. Even the Library commission was under assault. So we were mindful
that a jury of Detroiters represented the last remaining form of democracy in the
city. We were eager to put this case before you to vote on the matters of justice.
“What I would ask of you in these days at hand: keep your eyes open; keep your
ears open, your hearts open, your conscience open. Look for the meaning and spirit
of these events. If you do that I will gladly put myself in your hands.” The move to
halt the jury trial was called “unbelievable” by defense attorney Julie Hurwitz. She
argued that the city’s strategy was “orchestrated from the top decision- makers”
and “from day one has been a political one,” Hurwitz said. “[They are] absolutely
and totally bound and determined not to allow the truth about what’s going on with
these mass water shut-offs in this city to come to light. And that’s what this trial
did.
They’re taking advantage of their authority, and their relationship with the court, to
abuse both the law and the court to their political ends.” Peter Henning, an expert
on criminal procedure at Wayne State University agreed, calling the intervention
“quite uncommon,” noting that it is “aggressive” and “playing with fire.”
It should be obvious that the city has no moral ground in this case. Mayor Duggan,
and his minions, cannot keep the truth away from the people. Water shut offs are
everywhere. On any given day close to 30,000 households are in danger of being
shut off. While nearly30, 000 people have entered into payment plans, less than
300 have been able to keep up with them. Nearly 20,000 homes have been
permanently shut off. The City is paying Homrich nearly 6 million dollars to shut
people off, while assistance programs have run out of money.
All of this pain could have been avoided. The Mayor could use his energy to back
a Water Affordability Plan, approved by the City Council a decade ago.
Defendant Marian Kramer noted the irony of the city criminally prosecuting people
for nonviolent defense of Detroiters’ right to water. “The true crime is that
thousands of people who are struggling to pay their water bills are being deprived
of a basic necessity of life. Instead of implementing the Water Affordability Plan,
which would tie water rates to income and which Detroit City Council supports,
the Mayor chooses to shut off the water of thousands of Detroiters. Who is the real
criminal?”
Mayor Duggan is not only violating the basic human right to water. He is violating
the inalienable human right to a public trial by people of conscience. So much for
the “last vestige of democracy.”
 

7  

Emergency Mismanagement of Water
Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management
By Frank X Murphy, November 21, 2015
Efforts continue by white elites in the Detroit suburbs to monetize the
infrastructure of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), into the
new regional Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). This historic asset grab
teaches us a lot about what such misleaders really mean by fancy words like
“regionalism,” “affordable” water rates, “privatization” and even “democracy.”
An Internet Media Discussion
For example, on November 16, as part of a recent series of one-year-after
retrospectives on the historic Detroit municipal bankruptcy, journalist Sara Cwiek
posted an article about GLWA on Detroit public radio’s web site.
The piece began by positively describing the water takeover from the perspective
of suburban policy makers. It also briefly raised a few important questions.
Ms. Cwiek acknowledged that critics (including the United Nations) have harshly
denounced mass water shut offs initiated under Detroit’s emergency manager in
2014 against many of Detroit’s poorest residents, as “inhumane and ham-fisted”,
while being “meant to reassure wary bondholders”. Significantly, and perhaps for
the first time in such a mainstream corporate media report, Ms. Cwiek admitted the
nearly total failure of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s much-touted – but
unaffordable – water “assistance” plans for poor residents: “After 9 months of the
mass shutoffs, just 300 of the nearly 25,000 people put on payment plans were able
to keep up.”
This opportunity to participate in the kind of robust public discussion that
supposedly characterizes a free society (whether we can all afford water in it or
not) led this writer and a few others to post comments. One comment invited
readers to attend a special showing of Kate Levy’s film “Detroit Minds Dying,” to
learn more “about the theft of the water department and this duplicitous step
towards privatization of the entire region’s water source.”
That’s where one of the region’s key leaders of our new water order weighed in,
revealing the profound contempt he and his associates have for ordinary Detroiters
struggling with the brutal conditions of austerity imposed by the emergencymanaged bankruptcy on the city and its People. An almost immediate reply to the
comment inviting readers to attend the movie came from Craig Covey.
Mr. Covey is a top assistant to the Oakland County water resources commissioner,
and thus one of the key officials with a direct stake in the GLWA smash-and  

8  

grab. He pleads not guilty: “There have been no moves toward privatization of the
region’s water supply,” Mr. Covey claimed. He described the GLWA as “A Win,
Win” for both city and suburbs, because the GLWA is at some future time
supposed to start paying the city $50 million per year to lease the whole region’s
vital water and sewer infrastructure.
Suburban leaders rarely miss a chance to frame such political economic issues of
Detroit with bad odor, even after the city: a) provided them with clean water at
reasonable rates for many decades, and b) recently agreed to regionalize the
system at bargain basement prices. In this white supremacist tradition of “regional
cooperation” as structured by the suburbs, Mr. Covey concluded with a typical
kick in the urban nuts; he alleged that with white People in charge “we can get
away from the corruption and mismanagement of the past 40 years.”
A Smoking Gun Financial Memo
What Mr. Covey and his suburban cohorts mean when they describe their
opportunistic moves as yielding a “win/win” is clarified by a very recent
memorandum, dated November 12, 2015, authored by the Chief Financial Officer
of DWSD and GLWA, Nicolette Bateson. Her brief 2-page report to the DWSD
board regarding the status of GLWA is a masterpiece of Orwellian language. It
summarizes the relatively positive outlook for GLWA on Wall Street (where
everybody knows there is absolutely no “corruption and mismanagement”
whatsoever).
In summarizing GLWA’s attractive financial prospects, Ms. Bateson
acknowledges what the “win/win” really means for People who need water to live
in metro Detroit. For suburbanites, “… rates are considered affordable.”
People in the city, however, do not enjoy such a clear “win”. There is “significant
economic stress in Detroit, which could place downward pressure on utility
collection rates within the city…” (Heaven forefend!)
“…[B]ased on the significantly lower income indicators for Detroit, the wholesale
rates are considered significantly less affordable when compared to suburban
residents…” (emphasis added)
By “significantly less affordable” Ms. Bateson means that in Detroit water is
“unaffordable” for many People. It’s as if, in order to say someone is “dead”, one
tactfully referred to them as “significantly less alive.”
Let’s Review!
These recent communications teach that, for metro Detroit’s suburban leaders:

 

9  

1. Any attempt to publicly offer a critical perspective on the bankruptcy-arranged
white takeover of Detroit’s water system must be immediately attacked and
denied. Because of historic “corruption and mismanagement” that is the only thing
you need to know about black Detroit, no bias of white elites can be admitted to
determine policy outcomes, by definition;
2. Water is affordable in the mostly white suburbs, and unaffordable in the
overwhelmingly black city – this is known as a “win/win”. There is no earthly
reason to be concerned about the disparity at all;
3. The only significance this “significantly less” equitable reality has for
GLWA’s benevolent and far-seeing leadership is that it may threaten to undermine
their credit rating with Wall Street bondholders and banks. Certainly the fact that
far too many Detroiters lack reliable access to water and have suffered violation of
their basic human rights by mass water shut offs is of “significantly less” interest,
that is none at all; and
4. This unquestioned fundamentalist belief in corporate bottom line criteria, as
the sole basis for evaluating the functioning of a water utility is not in any sense a
form of “privatization”. (See “Optimize This! Water, Leadership, Human Rights
And Public Health”)
Detroiters know from long experience that there is significantly less truth in
statements by white corporate leaders about the human rights of working class
People of color, or their communities’ prospects for democracy, regional equity,
and access to the necessities of life. The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is
a case in point.

Statement on Water Affordability vs. Water Assistance
Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management
April 28, 2015
Metro Detroit needs affordable and accessible water and sewage rates and
payment plans for vulnerable populations based on income.
Over several weeks of participation on the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA)
Water Residential Assistance Program (WRAP) committee meetings, we have

 

10  

arrived at several conclusions about this process and its outcomes on water access
and affordability for low-income customers:
The GLWA WRAP is designed to fail. It is a very underfunded program intended
to serve a larger population of customers than current, failing DWSD assistance
programs. WRAP is based on temporary solutions to long-term problems and,
therefore, will not deliver on customer self-sufficiency measures and regular
payment requirements.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has operated for decades
without a basic understanding of how its municipal customers operate and assist
their retail customers (including affordability concerns), thereby contributing to
current GLWA WRAP design challenges and flaws.
Background on solutions based on affordability and legal challenges.
In 2005, in response to tens of thousands of annual water service shut offs in
Detroit, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) and utilities expert
Roger Colton drafted a Water Affordability Program (WAP), to address the issue
of providing water for low income customers unable to afford DWSD water and
sewage rates. The WAP calls for an affordable rate structure, based on individual
household’s income and ability to pay.
The Detroit City Council passed a resolution in 2006 in support of DWSD
adopting the WAP. Unfortunately, DWSD never adopted the proactive
affordability model of the WAP as specified. Instead, it implemented a modified
and unsupported plan termed the Detroit Residential Water Assistance Plan
(DRWAP).
DRWAP was based on a different, reactive model of assistance for the low-income
customers. Limited to the City of Detroit, it earmarked funds to subsidize
repayment of overdue bills after customers fell behind and into shut off
status. DRWAP operated ineffectively and with inadequate funding for a few
years before the program collapsed.
In the 10 years since WAP report was introduced there hasn’t been a single
publicly released DWSD study, analysis or report that provides basic data needed
to support or refute this fundamental policy choice. Instead, speculation and
suspicion of unfounded legal restrictions have been supplanted for data and facts.
Multiple studies and reports on affordability programs clearly outline the strengths
and benefits of this approach over assistance programs. The National Consumer
Law Council’s (NCLR) extensive March 2014 report entitled, Review and
Recommendations for Implementing Water and Wastewater Affordability
Programs in the United States, states that “An affordability analysis should also
 

11  

focus on customer ability to pay….” Similarly, a 2010 Water Research Foundation
jointly funded a report with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
called, Best Practices in Customer Payment Assistance Programs, noted: “Another
significant dimension of the problem of nonpayment relates squarely to public
health — the very heart of a water utility’s mission.” Note: The EPA recommends
a threshold of no more than 2.5% of median household income be spent on water
and wastewater.
On the interpretation of laws to allow for water affordability plans, NCLR offers
insightful conclusions:
“Throughout the United States, regulatory bodies and water agencies have
repeatedly viewed any program that might subsidize one ratepayer class at the
expense of another as potentially violating the anti-discriminatory rate provisions
found in their respective state statutes. And while some jurisdictions have more
broadly interpreted anti-discriminatory statutes, which facilitate the development
of ratepayer assistance programs, the fact remains that absent specific legislative
authorization, some affordability programs might be precariously positioned to
pass judicial scrutiny. … Some states have relaxed their interpretations of existing
statutes to allow for rate relief in disadvantaged communities under certain
circumstances. Flexibility to deviate from the strict application of district specific
pricing or single-tariff pricing should be an option when reasonably necessary,
based on all relevant factors. Tracking expenses on a district specific level even in
the context of single-tariff pricing or rate consolidation may help to ensure that
companies are held accountable and incur only those costs that are
reasonable. Flexibility is also necessary to create effective payment plans that take
into account the different circumstances of payment- troubled customers.”
During GLWA WRAP meetings, it has been asserted that water affordability
programs based on income are illegal. In reviewing Michigan statutes, particularly,
the Headlee Amendment (Art. IX, Sec. 31 of the Michigan Constitution,) and the
Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Bolt v Lansing, our legal team finds that the
MWRO Water Affordability Program is not illegal. Headlee requires a vote of the
People before raising a tax. Bolt held that when government charges a fee for a
service, it has to be only enough to pay for the cost of providing the service
(similar to the requirement of the above statute for DWSD), rather than a general
revenue raising measure. The Water Affordability Plan would not violate Headlee
because it does not impose a “tax.” Bolt should not apply, in light of the above
statute specifically targeting the DWSD system. Even if it did apply, the Water
Affordability Plan implemented by GLWA would not violate Bolt for the same
reason it doesn’t violate the statute.

 

12  

Finally, the State adopted in 2014 a comprehensive new funding program for the
City of Detroit in the legislation implementing the Grand Bargain. If the results of
that reform indicate that people in Detroit are being denied the means of life,
whether because of interpretations of the regional water system statute, Headlee
or Bolt, then that plan has to be amended. Laws and the legal issues they raise have
to be taken account of but should not block actions necessary for public health and
justice.
Water shut offs, racial bias and international criticism.
DWSD has a pattern of mass shutoffs to low income customers that yield the same
consequences and ineffective solutions. As in 2005, the 2014-2015 water shut offs
disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people living in poverty, e.g., persons
with disabilities, single parents with children, elders living on fixed incomes and
low income residents of color.
Combined with severe economic challenges facing Detroit beginning in the 2008
Great Recession, and throughout the 2013-2014 Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceeding,
the pre-existing inability of many Detroit residents to pay water and sewer bills
inevitably led to more mass water shut offs. In spring and summer 2014, up to
3000 customers per week were threatened with shut off. Over 31,000 households
were eventually shut off or nearly 100,000 residents equating to 1/6 of the
population.
Last year’s mass water shut offs were denounced by Detroit residents; international
and national social justice and civil rights organizations; and United Nations
Special Rapporteurs who visited Detroit in October 2014 at the urging of our
organizations. In meetings with residents and local officials, the human rights
experts maintained that U.N. Resolution 64/292 of July 2010 declares,
“Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means
constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human
rights.”
Local and regional officials have falsely argued that low income DWSD customers
insist on “free water,” do not want to pay their water and sewage bills, and need
behavior modification training on bill payment responsibility. These egregious
accusations would be better directed at DWSD officials and Board members who
have allowed millions of dollars in waste, fraud and debt to go without
demonstrable accountability by responsible parties.
Disconnection of water and wastewater service is tantamount to household eviction
because the property is deemed uninhabitable, both legally and practically. In
communities where the penalty for nonpayment is service disconnection, lowincome families are forced to determine priorities on other health-related expenses
 

13  

such as medical care, food, childcare, or energy service in order to pay the water
and wastewater bill. Households with limited resources make trade-offs among
basic needs (e.g., food vs. medication) or unsafely ration goods and services to
make ends meet often resulting in deprivation resulting in negative health impacts.
These consequences have also been demonstrated to disproportionately affect and
target low-income communities of color, especially African American residents.
The complaint filed with the federal Detroit Bankruptcy judge is now under appeal
pending trial in the case of Lyda et al. v City of Detroit. MWRO and the Detroit
People’s Water Board are plaintiffs in the case.
Southeast Michigan poverty and the ineffectiveness of assistance programs.
In September 2014, in the course of Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy (mediated by
Judge Cox), the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), was created via a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). At the same time, Mayor Duggan
announced a new 10-point plan that he said was intended to deal with the large
number of DWSD customers who were behind in their water bills.
Since then the plan’s effectiveness has been debunked. Only 300 of the 24,743
customers on the Mayor’s plan were able to keep up with their payment and
assistance plans. DWSD recently announced plans to commence another round of
mass residential water shut offs in spring 2015, reportedly affecting approximately
800 households per day affecting 34,000 customers.
Retail water and sewer service rates in Detroit have increased annually since 2000,
i.e., from 0.4% to 13.8% for water and between 4.2% to 16.4% for sewage. DWSD
recommendations for 2015 include a record high of 16.7% for sewage.
Throughout this same period of disproportionate and steep rate increases,
population data for income, unemployment levels, cost of living expenses and
other economic measures have worsened among Detroit’s poorest residents. These
struggles are spreading and impacting residents across the GLWA region.
A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found child poverty in Detroit
rose from 44.3% in 2006 to 59.4% in 2012 – the highest percentage among the top
50 U.S. cities. Outside of Detroit, Southeast Michigan cities had an increase in
child poverty rates from 18.9% in 2006 to 27% in 2012. Similar data (including
maps) was reported by Forgotten Harvest and concluded, “The poverty population
of the suburbs increased by 96.4 percent, and their share of the area’s total rose
from 45% to 59.7%. Poverty increased throughout the region. Macomb County led
all others with an increase of 140%, followed by Oakland County at 86.5% and
out-Wayne at 82.3%.”

 

14  

As the GLWA is scheduled to commence operations on July 1, 2015, the $4.5
million budget allocation – representing .5% of DWSD annual revenue – is
insufficient to meet the need for such wide-scale assistance throughout its nine
county regional service area or in Detroit alone, for that matter.
WRAP is not only underfunded, it is inherently unsustainable and futile.
Experience has shown us that most low-income DWSD customers have consistent
affordability problems. A household that has fallen behind on its water and
wastewater bills is highly likely to do so again and again. Assistance-based models
ignore systemic problems of poverty and limited incomes that lead to repeated shut
off crises. Moreover, recursive and punitive payment agreements, like those
developed by DWSD officials, are destined to be breached and will not meet the
goals of the customers or water system.
Moreover, mass residential water shut offs involve substantial costs and
complications. The two-year contract with demolition contractor Homrich, Inc. to
implement hundreds of shut offs per day costs DWSD $5.2 million and has had
disastrous execution results.
Conclusion and recommendations.
Under these circumstances, we believe it would be better policy to refrain from
implementing further residential water assistance programs, and to halt residential
water shut offs while the cost and effects of the WAP plan are adequately studied,
analyzed and quantified. We find the choice between affordability- and assistancebased programs for providing water to low-income customers is driven by
ideology, not data – in turn, causing human suffering upon children, seniors
citizens, the informed and people with disabilities, along with developing public
health crises.
We strongly recommend that the GLWA Board and its government partners study
key empirical questions of how much an affordable rate structure would actually
cost those who can least afford current rates, bills and payment plans. Without this
basic economic analysis, WRAP may emerge as a failed policy choice that is
unable to support the affordability needs of regional customers leading to more
mass shut offs and a further weakened water system.
Additionally, GLWA should begin steps to review and adopt the aforementioned
Water Affordability Plan, based on an equitable, sustainable and income-based rate
structure. Any legal questions should be immediately reviewed and clarified with
water expert attorneys.
As organizations that work directly with communities and customers in crisis, we
know that when water is not deemed a human right, thousands of poverty-stricken
 

15  

families in Southeast Michigan face the humanitarian catastrophe of threatened
shut offs each month. In the end we all continue to pay an economic and social cost
to pay for these services and infrastructure repairs because municipal water
systems are necessary public goods. The argument that some customers bear the
burden of higher costs when others are unable to pay as much puts forth a shortsighted and narrow ideology for sound, long-term management of our water
system.
It’s striking that current water shut offs and the denial of affordable payments
continue to be policy decisions led by politically-driven narratives that ostracize
and insult DWSD customers, who are poor. Local officials have acknowledged that
about 1/3 of DWSD water is unmetered from leaks and running water in
abandoned buildings. This cost is borne by all Detroit customers too.
DWSD and GLWA can and must avoid repeating last year’s massive assault on the
human rights and dignity of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
After the pain and restructuring of the bankruptcy, our region was supposed to do
better. The world is watching to see if the Great Lakes Water Authority, DWSD,
Mayor Duggan and regional and state partners in the GLWA will do the right
thing.

On Water Issues, it’s Detroit Versus the U.N.
The Detroit News
By Monica Lewis-Patrick and Lila Cabbil, November 6, 2014
For the second time in recent months, the United Nations has looked at the fact that
thousands of Detroit families are without water and determined that there are
better, more humane solutions to the problem than those used by Detroit’s mayor.
A panel, which included two U.N. special rapporteurs, heard testimony on Oct. 19
at a hearing with hundreds in attendance at Wayne County Community College’s
Fort Street campus. Having implemented his 10-point plan to deal with water
shutoffs, Mayor Mike Duggan rebuffed the U.N. panelists who took testimony
from Detroiters.
While the 10-point plan could be a starting point for negotiations (if the mayor
were up for negotiating with anyone on this issue) both the plan and his response
fail to recognize the reality the people of Detroit are facing.

 

16  

Detroit is America’s poorest big city, with 38 percent of residents living at or
below the poverty line and an unemployment rate of 14.6 percent. The United Way
recently released a report that shows two-thirds of Detroiters can’t afford basic
needs like transportation, housing and health care, even when people in their
households are working full time. When you combine these dire numbers with the
leaky pipes and bureaucratic foul-ups of the Detroit Water and Sewerage
Department, you have a recipe for injustice and disaster.
The U.N.’s second condemnation of the massive water shutoffs is part of a chorus
of public health advocates and officials that are demanding an alternative to
depriving families of water. Those voices include National Nurses United,
professor John Powell, co-chairman of the Population Health Council, and Dr.
Mouhanad Hammami, county health officer for the Wayne County Department of
Public Health. Hammami and Powell wrote an open letter calling the shutoffs a
public health hazard and citing a double bind: People in poverty are already more
likely to be in poor health. Being deprived of water only increases health risks.
In plain terms, the only humane solution is to create a plan where people at a
certain income threshold pay for water based on their income. This would keep the
water flowing to families that need it and the revenue flowing to a system that
requires it. We would stop squeezing families struggling to make ends meet and
instead make sure corporations who clearly have the ability to pay are no longer
allowed to let their bills pile up without retribution.
We actually have a plan that was passed by the City Council in 2006. The Water
Affordability Plan guarantees water and revenue based on people’s ability to pay.
But one thing needed to implement the plan has yet to occur in City Hall — a
paradigm shift. Recognizing how utterly crucial access to water is to families and
embracing a practical plan to make sure families are never without it takes vision
and courage.
It takes courage to acknowledge that you’ve been an accessory to devastating
entire neighborhoods, as one North End Detroit resident said at the U.N. hearing.
There is no one there to help when blocks of people are without water. Seniors that
are housebound, renters who have to wait for landlords to turn the water back on,
and children who have no control of family finances are among the hardest hit. But
everyone needs water. It may be hard for Mayor Duggan to hear and see the
devastation continue to get international attention, but that’s not nearly as hard as
life for thousands of residents who can’t afford the basics. The mayor’s plan needs
to take that truth into account and adjust to fit the needs of the people, not the other
way around.

 

17  

Statement on the Proposed Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA)
Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management
October 14, 2014
The future of Great Lakes water was decided behind closed doors. The bankruptcy
court ordered mediation among local political leaders. They developed a new
regional Great Lakes Water Authority. This new organization, delivering water
and sewer service to more than 4 million people, does not protect the human right
to water, nor does it embody what it means to hold the Great Lakes, as a public
trust.
Detroit’s water and human rights crisis of broken pipes in the winter, mass shut
offs in the spring and summer, contamination of Lake Erie water downstream in
July, and catastrophic flooding in August, illustrates the high stakes involved.
These crises are the result of years of federal oversight with no commitment to
human rights, ecological principles or justice. As recently as 2011 Judge Sean Cox
ordered a partial regionalization. It is clearly not working well.
This recent history raises difficult questions: why should we believe that the
current GLWA regionalization proposal pushed by the same leaders, as a result of
a similar secret backroom process, will now succeed where they have so obviously
failed so far? Why would this new deal under the same guidance fix deep-seated
and longstanding institutionalized problems? The answer is that without genuine,
broad policy changes in favor of human rights and social justice, reinforced by
direct democratic control of this commons resource, it will not.
The challenges facing our region can only be confronted and resolved by ensuring
economic and social justice through equitable public funding for the regional water
and sewer system and its vital services, as well as sound environmental
management. This is in keeping with the public trust doctrine and the human right
to water. These core public interest values and policy objectives must guide the
process and the GLWA going forward.
The Mayor has repeatedly evaded a commitment to human rights and to the
doctrine of public trust. He is more concerned with creating an illusion of control.
He says we have two systems – one regional in the suburbs and one local in the
city. The truth is that we have one regional system of which the local infrastructure
is an integral part. This misrepresentation does not inspire confidence; the “two
systems” are more accurately described as 1) fresh water; and 2) waste water.
For years Detroiters have borne a larger share of the burden for a regional system.
Unless this fundamental, underlying dynamic changes dramatically, the GLWA

 

18  

mediated by Judge Cox will fail like, the 2011 partial regionalization ordered by
the same Judge did before it.
The Mayor has told the public that our water and sewer system is crumbling for
one reason: We haven’t been spending the money to fix it. He hasn’t explained
why.
There are several reasons, including withdrawal of necessary financial support for
Detroit by regional, state and federal officials, as well as a highly politicized and
racist obsession with preventing suburban ratepayers from having to pay their fair
share for the maintenance of the whole system. As Oakland County Executive L.
Brooks Patterson told the New Yorker in unguarded remarks regarding the regional
water system, “They’re not gonna talk me into being the good guy. ‘Pick up your
share?’ Ha, ha.” Rather than address such deep seated attitudes, the new GLWA
will borrow more money, while promising to hold rate increases to no more than
4% annually. This has long been widely believed to be inadequate funding for the
system’s critical needs.
If these underlying, unjust priorities don’t change, the new GLWA will not be able
to end the recent nightmare of mass water shut offs. There are many critical,
unanswered questions about the roles of Veolia, EMA and a possible
Public/Private Partnership (P3), in the face of potential threatened privatization. In
this connection, we are concerned that the Mayor’s stated objection to privatization
is substantially undercut by his admission that certain “pieces” of the system may
be privatized. What is he really saying, and even more important, doing? The lack
of transparency, or even coherence, in the publicly stated vision regarding such
important issues is deeply disturbing.
The Mayor has further stated that there have been no recent combined sewage
overflows or water pollution permit violations. In fact, there have been both –
including over 19 billion gallons of partially treated sewage and over 2 billion
gallons of raw sewage. Success of the GLWA proposal requires more than happy
talk. It requires facing facts. In the future, we hope that local, regional, state and
other officials responsible for the regional system and its services will do this.
Unfortunately they have not to date.
On June 25, three UN experts on the human rights to drinking water and sanitation,
on adequate housing and on extreme poverty expressed concerns regarding water
shut-offs in Detroit. They stated “Disconnection of water services because of
failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to
water and other international human rights.” DWSD’s recent brutal policy of
shutting off residents’ access to drinking water rightly drew the attention and the

 

19  

ire of the world to Detroit’s unjust emergency management regime and its abuse of
Detroiters, in disregard of law.
The GLWA water affordability program initially funded by $4.5 million, with .5%
of budgeted revenue annually dedicated to its maintenance, is a welcome
change. Make no mistake. This is only because of the activism of Detroiters who
demanded it. Going forward we will be watching very closely to ensure that these
promises are kept.
Similarly, the regional system’s current sewage costs are subject to an inequitable
cost split: 83% to the city, but only 17% of the costs paid by the suburbs. This
requires extremely important and expensive, environmental regulation-mandated
Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) improvements. Failure to redress this unfair
cost burden under the GLWA would perpetuate an injustice that impairs the
regional sewer system’s ability to protect the Great Lakes, and may threaten the
fiscal stability of the GLWA.
Mass water service shutoff policies implemented by DWSD in Detroit recently
created emotional and physical hardship for families—including the children,
elders and people with disabilities— forced out of their homes to live with
neighbors and family. The human and social cost of this aggressive, uncivil
process — in the face of overwhelming unemployment and abject poverty —
created the potential for disease and medical injury that still exists. It puts
everyone — the whole community — at risk.
The GLWA has its work cut out for it in dealing with these risks. Transparency,
accountability and dedication to just and equitable governance and provision of
services will be absolutely required to meet these challenges. Their blatant
absence in the emergency managed bankruptcy and restructuring process that
produced the GLWA is extremely disturbing.
The leadership of DWSD— the Governor, the Emergency Manager and their law
firm— recently failed to display sound stewardship. Mass residential water
shutoffs to thousands of Detroiters reinforced a narrow commercial and corporate
agenda, and violated the human right to water and sanitation. DWSD attempted to
justify this blatant violation by describing it as a commercial success. That
insensitive and blind position was discredited around the world, in the bankruptcy
court and in our local community.
The Mayor’s statements that GLWA will remedy those violations with a funded
water affordability program must be backed up by action, or the whole
restructuring and emergence from municipal bankruptcy will be
threatened. Indeed, the recent public claims that the GLWA was driven by water
main breaks, affordability concerns and the opportunity to create jobs repairing the
 

20  

infrastructure, when it is crystal clear that in reality it was forced by the court in
order to salvage the bankruptcy restructuring, insults our intelligence. We call for
honesty as well as competent public service and protection of the commons going
forward.
We demand that GLWA address the water crisis in Detroit through:
1.   Recognition of the human right to water and the public trust in the water of
Detroit.
2.   Immediate cessation of the shutoffs and restoration of household water
connections;
3.   Implementation of the city’s water affordability plan as originally proposed
in 2005, beyond the limited version passed in modified form by City
Council and implemented by DWSD in 2006;
4.   Providing the public with full, timely and adequate information and
accountable oversight regarding the conversations taking place about the
future of DWSD/GLWA; and
Authorities with responsibility for GLWA’s future, and for our communities’
public health, human rights, and public trust rights must step up to their
responsibilities. All people in metro Detroit are entitled to equitable access to
affordable water, sanitation and sewer services.

The Detroit Water Struggle: A Story
Critical Moment
By Bill Wylie-Kellermann, September 30, 2014
Think of Charity Hicks as the Rosa Parks of the Detroit Water Struggle. She was
arrested in Detroit early on May 16 for resisting the shut off of her own water. The
private contractor came early in the morning, but she was up. Since he was hitting
a bunch of people on her block she went door to door rousing people to say: “He’s
coming; fill your tub, fill pots and pans!” Then, because Charity still had two more
days to settle her bill, she demanded to see the shut off order. He had none; only a
list of addresses. When the altercation turned physical she called the police. Let it
be said that Charity was a forceful, even loud when required, black woman. She
has a large persona. The white cops who arrived averred that she “needed to be
 

21  

taught a lesson” and instead arrested her. They left her house open and threw her
phone and keys on the front lawn. She was essentially disappeared.
Because of the situation in Detroit, arrestees are no longer taken to the precinct.
They go directly to a Central Detention Center run by the State of Michigan in a
former prison within city boundaries. Still barefoot and bleeding she was put into a
holding area with 30 other women. One toilet. No benches. Find a place on the
floor not covered with blood or vomit. It’s the weekend so you’ll be arraigned by
video to a Court in Romulus.
When her husband returned home and saw the remains of the situation he began
calling local hospitals to try and find her. Eventually he went to the police station
to file a missing persons report. They said: We have her.
Visits and bond attempts were turned away. Because she is a diabetic and was
going into sugar shock, frantic lawyers were able to get her out on a habeas corpus
motion. But, truth be told, they had arrested the wrong person. Charity Hicks was a
food, water, and environmental justice activist in Detroit. Strong and articulate. A
woman not to be messed with.
Two days later she told this story at St Peter’s Episcopal Church. She urged the
gathered activists, in a now famous phrase, to “wage love” in the water struggle for
justice. The occasion was the presence of Nelson and Joyce Johnson, two faithrooted activists from North Carolina. Nelson had been wounded by Klan members
in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre. Since then they have, among other things,
founded the Beloved Community Center and shepherded the first Truth and
Reconciliation process on US soil. They were also instrumental in the recent Moral
Mondays campaign where week after week groups have been arrested at the State
House in Raleigh resisting to the right-wing assault to all social programs and
budgets. They were here to discuss the connections between the North Carolina
efforts and the struggle in Detroit against Emergency Management.
An Emergency Manager appointed by Governor Snyder (See Jan/Feb 2014) has all
the powers of government and more in his or her person: He or she can write
ordinances, repeal laws, fire employees, set budgets, privatize departments, sell
city assets, break union contracts, re-write the city charter, and file for bankruptcy.
Or so we are told. The law justifying this was repealed in a ballot measure be
Michigan citizens, but the lame-duck Republican legislature re-passed a worse
version within months. At this point every black city in the state is under the
emergency manager law. Over half the black citizens of Michigan are under nonelected governments. Seventy-five percent of the black elected officials have been
replaced by emergency managers. The Detroit Public Schools has had an

 

22  

Emergency Manager for five years and they have been successfully dismantled,
privatized, and destroyed a la New Orleans.
Under the Emergency Manager the Detroit Water and Sewage Department
announced in March that it was beginning to shut off water to anyone more than
two months or $150 dollars behind in their bill. A hundred and twenty thousand
homes. They were shooting for something like 3,000 per week. A couple years
back, $500 million in bond money for infrastructure repairs had been turned over
to the banks to buy out the banks from predatory and illegal credit swaps into
which the Department had entered. Now in the effort to privatize Detroit water,
poor people were going to have to pay up or be expelled. At the same time, this
comported with the reorganizing of Detroit neighborhoods, resourcing some and
pulling the plug on others. People not expelled by mortgage and tax foreclosures,
or by the disappearance of schools, precincts, and fire stations, could now be sent
packing by water shut-offs.
Neslon and Joyce thought something like this might be planned for North Carolina
as well. When Nelson heard Charity’s story, he said: “This is it.” In the picture of a
child or elder holding a cup at an empty faucet, all the connections can be made.
He said this is the thing that can both deepen and broaden the Detroit movement.
He drew a map of campaign on a paper plate. He was prophetic in every sense of
the word. What he mapped and foresaw has come to be.
Within the week, Charity was at a conference planned by the Peoples’ Water
Board in Detroit with Maude Barlowe, a Canadian writer and water activist who
had been instrumental in getting the United Nations to declare access to potable
water as a human right. When she heard Charity’s story, she said: “This is it. We
need to file a complaint with the United Nations.” Within weeks UN
representatives had announced that cutting off water to people because they were
unable to pay was indeed a violation of basic human rights. That got a lot of
international attention and soon local Detroit papers and TV stations were forced to
cover the story themselves.
Charity had been invited to North Carolina to tell the story, but first she went to
New York City to speak about the crisis at the Left Forum. While waiting at a bus
stop, on her way to speak, she was hit by a car that jumped the curb and struck her
down. A hit and run. She was in a coma for weeks. In early July she crossed over
to God and the ancestors.
A group of religious leaders and allies began circulating a letter against the shutoffs and privatization and in support of the Peoples Affordability Plan of 2005
which would set water prices according to ability to pay. Drawing from interfaith
tradition they said water is a grace, a gift of the Creator, beneath everything. It is
 

23  

the lifeblood of the planet circulating in river and rain. As a gift of God it belongs
to all creatures equally. In tradition it is part of the commons for which we are
stewards. This view is represented legally in the idea that water is not a utility or a
commodity, but a public trust, held for all the people. It is represented in the idea
that you can’t own a body of water, even if you own the land around it. Any high
school kid knows if you are walking on the beach and someone tells you to get off
their property, you step into the water and you’re off. It is also represented in the
idea that water is a human right–it belongs accessibly to everyone. The faith letter
was signed by 5 bishops and 80 religious leaders in the city, plus many more in the
region and nationally. It was hand delivered to the Water Board, the Detroit City
Council and to the shut-off contractor.
Meanwhile people started protesting every Friday at the Detroit Water Board. They
called it Freedom Fridays, echoing the Moral Monday’s movement in North
Carolina. In the days that followed Charity’s death a group of ten people decided to
take direct action and block the trucks from going out to shut the water off. They
went to the gates of Homrich Wrecking, the private contractor with a $5.6 million
contract to turn off the water. The company is paid by the shut-off, so they are
incentivized to do as many as they can, as fast as they can. We dedicated our action
to the memory and spirit of Charity Hicks. For two hours we blocked the gates. In
a very physical confrontation, we were arrested and taken to the Central Detention
Facility. So far, this was how Nelson Johnson had diagramed it on his paper plate.
The following week ten more people went back. This time we blocked the drive
and stopped the trucks for 7 hours before being arrested. The same day downtown,
more than a thousand people marched from Cobo Hall to Bank of America to City
Hall to Hart Plaza to protest the shut-offs. National Nurses United came forward to
support the march and declare the situation in Detroit a public health crisis. People
can’t cook, wash, or flush toilets when their water is s hut off. On top of that
sometimes they lose their children to Protective Services because the situation is
made unhealthy and unsafe.
In response We the People of Detroit set up a hotline for folks who have been shutoff to call (844-42WATER) and began to organize stations around the city to
provide emergency water and information. Our church, where the Worker’s
Kitchen resides, is one of them. On July 24 the council of Canadians, led by
Maude Barlowe delivered 300 gallons of water to our water station in an act of
solidarity. We stacked the water around our baptismal font at the back of the
church and declared it a place of grace. A week later Keepers of the Mountain in
West Virginia (where a chemical spill had left an entire town without water)
delivered 1100 gallons of water. Another, even larger shipment, is expected from a
UAW local in Chicago. The support is growing.
 

24  

Hence, the Detroit Emergency Manager has a problem. The Federal Judge in
Detroit’s Bankruptcy called in the Water Board to say, this has become an issue for
the bankruptcy trial – it already was deeply embedded. You’re making the city
look bad. So the Water Board declared a two week moratorium on shut-offs.
Whereafter the Emergency Manager announced that he was giving administration
of the Water Department over to Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan. Duggan is white
and was “elected” in a landslide of write-in votes. He can’t do anything the
Emergency Manager doesn’t permit and they work closely together. Think of it as
good cop-bad cop. The mayor says things have been handled badly by the
Emergency Manager, but now we’ll do them right. He has a 10 point plan to
extend the shut-off moratorium, give people time to pay up, hold some
informational events, and crack down on those “stealing” water.
There isn’t anything in it about the $29 million owed by commercial and industrial
accounts, and not a word about the Water Affordability Plan. No one took Nelson’s
paper plate and followed the design. It’s all just happened in a very decentralized
and Spirit-led way. Charity Hicks walks among us and we are “waging love.” As
this is written, the bankruptcy trial is scheduled to begin after Labor Day. More
actions are being discerned. The story is not over yet.

Water, Dispossession, and Resistance
Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell, June 10, 2014
Water is a basic human right. That was the strong message sent to the Detroit
Works/Detroit Future project during the environmental session held as part of their
community conversations. These are the orchestrated conversations that Detroit
Future claims give it legitimacy to reshape our city. The message that water is a
human right was ignored. Neither the subsequent “Strategic Framework” nor
current practices reflect this deeply held community value.
The failure of Detroit Future, the Blight Elimination Task Force, or any of our
elected officials to demand a moratorium on water shut offs reveals their
complicity in the effort to remove people from their homes. They do not challenge
the takeover of our city by corporate powers.

 

25  

Let’s be clear. These water shut offs are not about unpaid bills. This is about
dispossession of the people. These shutoffs are intended to drive people from their
homes. Water is the wedge. People are being targeted at the rate of 1500 to 3000
homes a week.
One of the ways we know this is not about unpaid bills is the glaring contradiction
between the treatment of homeowners and corporate clients. DPS, under its
emergency manger, owes $2.2 million in outstanding bills. Palmer Park Golf Club
owes $200,000, Joe Louis Arena/Red Wings Hockey owes $80,000 and Ford Field
$55,000. The struggling city of Highland Park, also under emergency management,
owes $17.4 million.
Last month, Flint severed its connection to DWSD. Under its Emergency Manager
it is constructing a new pipeline, to be placed right next to the DWSD pipeline, to
get water from Lake Huron, 65 miles away. The Karegnondi Water Authority was
established with the blessings of the State Legislature in 2010 to carry out this
unnecessary, quarter-billion-dollar project. It is a loss of $22 million for Detroit,
annually.
Most likely the water shut offs would have happened quietly, except that
“aggressive action” was required to convince suburban powers and private
speculators that the Detroit Water System is a viable asset. Viability in this case
required making a public show of shut offs. This aggressive action is a source of
money making for yet another corporation. The Board of Water Commissioners
has signed a two year contract with Homrich, a favorite of Dan Gilbert, for $5.6
million to accelerate shut offs.
The response on the part of the people has been swift. Community meetings are
springing up as homes, churches, and small businesses face shut offs. People are
teaching each other how to turn water on. Some are parking cars over shut off
valves. Environmental activist Charity Hicks was arrested for having the audacity
to ask that people be allowed to fill up water jugs before the turn off. International
water rights activist Maud Barlow was in town and is taking a human rights charge
against the city to the United Nations. Clergy nationally are lending support to this
effort.
These water shut offs are coming on the heels of a less publicized but equally
inhuman series of shut offs of heat and light. Between January and September of
2013 DTE and Consumer Energy disconnected 169,407 households. These shut
offs were before the worst winter on record.
For more than a decade community groups and thoughtful public officials have
moved the city toward policies and practices that assure access to the essentials of
life. Rates based on ability to pay, not usage, are the foundation of this shift.
 

26  

Programs like THAW have long held that access to protect people, public health,
and safety is our primary value. In 2005 a more conscious City Council passed
resolutions extending this principle to water.
The Emergency Manger and corporate powers are using water bills to accelerate
the dispossession of those who stand in the way of their plans for Detroit.
Resistance to this is our right.

Flint Efficiency
Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell, January 3, 2016
On the eve of the New Year, the Flint Water Advisory Task Force felt compelled
to deliver a letter to Governor Snyder. It is a remarkably candid assessment of the
Governor’s failures, the crass attitude of his appointees, and the creation of a
culture of disrespect and denial within government.
Thus far, the Governor does not seem to grasp the extraordinary damage he has
done. His weak apology and appointments of a coordinator and public relations
expert were met with immediate criticism. “Political appointees and public
relations people are what got us into this mess, and they aren’t who we need
leading us out of it,” Flint State Senator Jim Ananich said. “Anything less than a
professional trained in emergency management or public health will not suffice.”
The latest letter to Snyder prompted the resignations of two top officials who failed
in their responsibilities for protecting the public. Dan Wyant, the Director of
Environmental Quality (DEQ), whose agency was cited as “primarily responsible
for failing to ensure safe drinking water,” resigned. This was followed by the
resignation of the DEQ spokesman, Brad Wurfel.
“Snyder said. “I want the Flint community to know how very sorry I am that this
has happened. He continued, “And I want all Michigan citizens to know that we
will learn from this experience, because Flint is not the only city that has an aging
infrastructure. I know many Flint citizens are angry and want more than an
apology. That’s why I’m taking the actions today to ensure a culture of openness
and trust.”

 

27  

There is no doubt Snyder is “sorry this has happened.” But his apology misses the
point. This is not about “aging infrastructure” or the acts of a few individuals. It is
the result of an ideology dedicated to saving money and denying our
responsibilities to one another and the ecosystems on which we depend for life.
Governor Snyder, not his appointees, carries the primary responsibility for this
crisis. It is not only that he may well have known about lead poisoning long before
he was forced to act on it. It is that he is responsible for the conduct of his
appointees. They carry forth his attitudes. These attitudes value saving money
over protecting people and public health. They are attitudes that disdain democracy
and disrespect citizens who question the decisions of unaccountable authorities.
Snyder has refused to reflect on how his decision to appoint unaccountable
emergency managers to run major cities contributed to this disaster. He has refused
to look at how his bottom line thinking endangers our public responsibility to one
another. He has refused to explore how his own attitudes toward those who
disagree and question him. He refuses to acknowledge that controversy and
disagreement are essential to sound decision-making.
His task force says bluntly, “It is clear to us, particularly as we listen to the people
of Flint, that it is both critical and urgent to establish responsibility for what
happened in their community and ensure accountability.”
The letter acknowledges that “other individuals and entities made poor decisions,
contributing to and prolonging the contamination of the drinking water supply in
Flint,” beyond the DEQ. Citing reports of “early knowledge” and “yet, silence,
about elevated blood lead levels detected among Flints children” the letter
concludes “we feel it is important to review local government decision processes
under emergency management.”
The crisis in Flint reveals the deep flaws in the Snyder administration. It raises
questions not only of mis-management and bad decisions, but of criminal acts,
knowingly perpetrated by arrogant officials in the name of efficiency.

 

28  

Some Common Misunderstandings of Flint’s Lead in Water Problem
Flint Water Study
By Siddartha Roy, December 28, 2015
Overall, the media has done a great job explaining the corrosion control problems
in Flint, providing simple but scientifically accurate explanations—but
misunderstandings still arise here and there. Below we correct some of the most
common errors.
1) Myth: The lead in water is coming from the home plumbing of Flint consumers.
Fact: The worst water lead problems have been associated with city owned lead
service pipes. Some people have estimated that about half of Flint’s homes are
served by lead service lines, but in reality no one really knows how many pipes are
present or even where they are. Even if the entire city of Flint had lead free home
plumbing, there still would have been a serious lead in water problem.
2) Myth: If the city of Flint, its consumers and schools had been investing and
“upgrading their infrastructure” or their “fixtures,” they would not be having a lead
in water problem.
Fact: It is so costly to completely replace plumbing infrastructure including:
1) pure lead service pipes (often city owned),
2) pipes with lead solder (legal and the standard until 1986),
3) galvanized iron pipes (often contains lead), and
4) brass plumbing devices containing lead (standard until January 2014)
that very few consumers, cities and schools have “upgraded” their infrastructure in
a manner that could have stopped this problem. If Federal laws that require
corrosion control were violated, as they were in Flint, most major U.S. cities also
would have had a very serious lead-in-water problem.
3) Myth: “Flint residents got what they paid for…” or “Flint could not afford to
treat their water correctly.”
Fact: MDEQ’s decision to not install corrosion control after switching to the
corrosive Flint River source, was a financial disaster that will eventually cost Flint
consumers and the City on the order of a hundred million dollars in damaged
infrastructure. Each $1 dollar invested in corrosion control typically saves $5-10 in
plumbing damage avoided, so it is a wise investment. For reasons to be discussed
in a future column, the return on investment for corrosion control in Flint would
have been much, much higher. The failure to install corrosion control in Flint, was
the financial equivalent of “pulling the plug” on a city that was already on life
support.

 

29  

4) Myth: “Each city should be able to decide the quality of water they receive….,”
Fact: There are Federal laws that set enforceable minimum standards that every
city must have, which includes a requirement for corrosion control and stringent
monitoring of lead. These laws should have been followed in Flint.
5) Myth: Flint has always met EPA Standards for lead in water.
Fact: MDEQ violated the letter and spirit of the Federal Lead and Copper Rule in
at least 3 different ways in Flint– each of which made it falsely appear that Flint’s
water was safe when it was not. On the heels of excellent reporting by ACLUMichigan, the City of Flint itself acknowledges it did not sample enough of the
required homes with lead pipe. Simply put, Flint has not had a legal EPA water
lead sampling event since switching to Flint River (and possibly even before that).
6) Myth: Other cities in Michigan and throughout the U.S. have worse water lead
problems.
Fact: While there is little doubt that the 25 year old Federal lead law has loopholes
and is not achieving its original intent, we are not aware of another city in the U.S.
with a lead problem as bad as Flint’s (since the 2001-2006 Water Lead Crisis in
Washington D.C.)
7) Myth: Lead in Flint water is now “safe” or is still “unsafe.”
Fact: No one really knows the current status of lead in Flint’s water supply. We
have taken the position that until Flint actually passes a round of legitimate EPA
lead and copper rule monitoring–it should be assumed unsafe for cooking or
drinking.
8) Myth: Lead in water is normally a “minor source of lead in blood,” or
contributes “less than 20% of lead in blood.”
Fact: The actual Federally mandated language states that water lead contributes
“20% or more” to blood lead not “20% or less.” It further states that for infants
with formula, lead in water can be almost the sole source to lead in blood.
Interestingly, early this year we traced the genesis of misinformation that lead in
water contributes “20% or less” to lead in blood (See Table 1). It actually all
started with a typo in public education materials of a water utility, and then EPA
started citing the language with the typo, and the erroneous language was attributed
to EPA. In any case, when we brought the mistake to their attention, the utility and
EPA finally corrected the 10+ years old error. The “less than 20%” urban legend
language was cited by CDC, utilities, EPA and public health departments, to
downplay water lead dangers to children, and it was also cited by MDEQ last
week.

 

30  

When Did State Know Kids in Flint Were Lead Poisoned?
Detroit Free Press
By Nancy Kaffer, December 17, 2015
When did the State of Michigan first learn that kids in Flint had been poisoned by
lead in the city's drinking water?
This is one of the most critical questions to answer in the aftermath of a public
health crisis that's still unfolding in one of the state's largest cities.
And it shouldn't be a hard question to answer.
But when I asked Gov. Rick Snyder this week, he said he couldn't recall.
Officials at the state department of health say they didn't know what was
happening until a Flint pediatrician released her own analysis in September -- even
though data previously collected by the state showed the same trend, a reversal in a
decades-long decline in the percentage of kids with lead in their blood.
And the health department has been stalling a Virginia Tech University researcher
who has been trying to get public records that could show who knew what, and
when.
It's ridiculous. Immediately after Snyder acknowledged there was a problem in
Flint, the Free Press editorial board encouraged him not to slow-walk the
postmortem. Snyder has appointed an after-action task force to find out what
happened, and he told the Free Press this week that he's waiting for that report to
provide answers to many of these questions -- but answers should certainly be
readily available for the man in charge of the state departments involved in this
fiasco.
So inconsistency and obfuscation continue.
Regardless of individual culpability, the water crisis in Flint has shown that the
state systems designed to ensure safe drinking water and healthy children tilt
toward inertia: Despite mounds of data, despite understanding the consequences of
lead exposure, Flint was allowed to pursue a reckless water treatment program with
the approval of everyone from the Flint City Council to the state Treasurer's Office
and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Flint switched its water supply in April 2014, drawing its drinking water from the
Flint River while a new regional water system it plans to join next year is under
construction. The local water treatment plant, with the approval of the Michigan
Department of Environmental Quality, failed to add chemicals to the river water
that would have prevented lead in aging service lines from leaching into the water.
 

31  

All of these decisions were made with the approval of a series of emergency
managers, appointed by Snyder to guide the city back to financial stability.
Within months, the amount of lead in Flint's drinking water soared. Lead poisoning
is irreversible, and can cause behavioral and developmental problems in children.
After an initial six-month round of testing was complete in January, results showed
that the amount of lead in Flint's water was rising, although still within what state
officials say they believed were federal safety guidelines. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency got involved; a memo written by an EPA water regulations
manager found fault with both Flint's water treatment and MDEQ's water testing
protocol. But nothing happened. State officials continued to insist that Flint's
drinking water was safe, even as internal documentation showed that it wasn't.
So, we know that state officials knew that lead in Flint's water was rising, months
before officials publicly acknowledged what was happening. But when should the
state have known that the percentage of Flint kids with elevated blood-lead levels
was growing?
Virginia Tech's Marc Edwards, a MacArthur genius grant recipient who has tested
water samples from hundreds of Flint homes, submitted a request under the state's
Freedom of Information Act for documents related to elevated blood-lead levels in
Flint kids to the state health department in early November. The department
notified him later that month that the documents he'd requested were ready. He
paid the state's tab, and waited. He's still waiting.
A health department lawyer wrote in an e-mail to Edwards that a "litigation hold"
placed by state Attorney General Bill Schuette's office, because of a lawsuit filed
by Flint residents alleging the state acted improperly when it switched to river
water, meant she couldn't release the documents. But Schuette's office told a Free
Press reporter that there was no "litigation hold" (a term Free Press lawyer
Herschel Fink, who has decades of experience litigating the rules surrounding
public documents, said he'd never heard).
When Edwards informed the lawyer that the AG's office hadn't supported the
notion of a litigation hold, the health department lawyer said she needed to review
the documents to see if any were subject to attorney-client privilege. Again, Fink
looked askance at this explanation: Public documents don't become private by
simply virtue of being associated with a lawsuit.
Why is the health department stalling? I'm not sure, and it would be irresponsible
to speculate.
For months, state officials denied that the water in Flint had problems. In July,
MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel told Michigan Radio that folks in Flint could
 

32  

"relax." In an internal e-mail, Wurfel wrote that community groups were keeping
people in Flint "hopped up." When Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician,
released her analysis of Flint kids' blood-lead levels, the state's immediate
response, across multiple departments, was to attempt to discredit her
work. Snyder's spokeswoman said the data used by Hanna-Attisha -- a pediatrician
with degrees in medicine and public health -- was "spliced and diced."
And the health department, in response to a Free Press request, sent over a batch of
blood-lead testing data that it said would refute Hanna-Attisha's conclusions. But a
straightforward reading of the data showed that the state's own blood-lead testing
data confirmed the doctor's findings, Free Press data analyst Kristi Tanner found.
Yet the state health department continued to deny that the spike in blood-lead
levels the doctor identified were anything but a seasonal anomaly. A week later,
the health department reversed course, completely endorsing Hanna-Attisha's
findings.
Health department spokeswoman Jennifer Eisner wrote in an e-mail: "We work
closely with our 45 local health departments across the state to provide public
health services. Historically, a request would come to MDHHS from the local
health department to conduct epidemiological analysis before our department
would have stepped in. As part of our after-action report, we continue to review
how we will conduct this process in the future."
But here's the thing: For months, state officials worked diligently, not to
investigate the brewing public health crisis in Flint, but to discredit outside experts
presenting test results contrary to the state's assertions that everything was fine.
And all that time, data that would have shown what was happening was ignored.
Why?

Flint's State of Emergency is a Sign that Democracy is Working There Again
The Guardian
By Curt Guyette, December 16, 2015
It might seem counterintuitive that Flint, Michigan’s declaration that there are
dangerously high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water – and in the blood of
the city’s children – is a positive thing. The contamination of the city’s drinking
water is, after all, is a gut-wrenching tragedy.

 

33  

But the declaration about the undrinkable water, made by newly elected mayor
Karen Weaver on Monday, is positive in this regard: it is evidence that a
semblance of democracy has returned to Flint.
Such an announcement would have been unimaginable even six months ago, when
Flint was still under the control of an “emergency manager” appointed by
Governor Rick Snyder. The state’s usurpation of local power essentially obliterated
the kinds of checks and balances that are key to a functioning democracy.
Like a lot of Rust Belt cities, Flint – the birthplace of General Motors – has long
been in decline. As auto plants closed and jobs moved elsewhere, the city’s
population and tax base both plummeted. The result was an economic crisis that, in
2011, led to the state stepping in and taking complete control of the city.
A series of emergency managers, accountable only to the governor who appointed
them, held near-dictatorial power over an impoverished city of 100,000 residents –
a majority of whom are African America
Operating under the most extreme receivership law found anywhere in the United
States, these emergency managers had the power to break collective bargaining
agreements, abolish city ordinances, fire employees, sell off city assets, and slash
the healthcare benefits of retirees. About the only thing Snyder’s appointees
couldn’t do was miss a bond payment.
In addition to everything else, these emergency managers held complete power
over the duly elected city council and mayor. The emergency manager told these
officials what they could and couldn’t do and determined how much, if anything,
they would be paid. Any decisions the elected officials made could be overruled.
It was under this autocracy that Flint – in April 2014 – ended a 50-year relationship
with the Detroit department of water and sewerage to begin drawing the city’s
drinking water from the corrosive, polluted Flint river. The initial savings to the
city were pegged at $5m.
As soon as the changeover occurred though, it became apparent that the decision
was a disastrous one. Residents began complaining of water that looked, smelled
and tasted bad.
Because of high bacteria levels, a series of boil-water notices were issued. Then
came news of dangerously high levels of total trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic
byproduct of the chlorine being used in increased amounts to combat the bacteria
problems.
As early as February of this year, according to emails obtained through the
Freedom of Information Act by the ACLU of Michigan, the US Environmental

 

34  

Protection Agency began raising concerns that the highly corrosive river water,
along with everything else, was beginning to eat away at the pipes carrying water
to Flint’s 40,000 homes. And of particular concern to residents and the federal
government alike was the effect of the corrosive water on an untold number of lead
service lines and leaded home plumbing.
Despite mounting evidence that levels of lead in the city’s drinking water were
increasing, the state – and the city officials under their control – adamantly
maintained that the water was safe.
If not for a determined coalition of residents who refused to swallow those false
claims in addition to the toxic water provided to them by the order of Snyder’s
appointee, the full extent of the problem might never have come to light.
Instead of relying on the government, the residents teamed up with experts at
Virginia Tech and the ACLU of Michigan (where I am employed as an
investigative reporter) to conduct their own independent tests, which clearly
showed that lead levels in the water were a severe threat, especially to children and
pregnant women.
Even after the results of those tests were revealed, officials at Michigan’s
department of environmental quality (MDEQ) continued to insist that the water
was safe.
But they were politically motivated to downplay any problem. The MDEQ, like the
emergency manager who made the decision to begin using the river as Flint’s
water source, is an appointee of the governor. What is the likelihood that one
gubernatorial appointee is going to announce that a decision made by another
gubernatorial appointee is resulting in the widespread, systematic lead poisoning of
children?
It certainly didn’t happen in Flint. Even after the city council voted earlier this year
to return to the Detroit system, the appointed emergency manager effectively
vetoed the decision.
But then, in September, an independent study conducted by a Flint-area physician
showed that the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had
doubled following the switch to the river. Only after this study was published did
Governor Snyder and his MDEQ concede that the river water was the cause of the
disaster and allow the city to switch back to Detroit’s water system.
Flint’s fourth and final emergency manager left office in April. In November, the
long-time mayor who mouthed the state’s assurances that the water was safe was
voted out of office because of his role in the water crisis.

 

35  

And so, the stage was set for a new mayor – one not under the controlling thumb of
a state appointee – to exercise her authority. Little wonder, then, that she started by
declaring a state of emergency in an attempt to safeguard the people who elected
her.
That, after all, is what democracy is supposed to look like.

The Costs of Suspended Democracy
The Detroit News
By Maureen Taylor, November 23, 2015
The recent crimes against public health in Flint, where people were forced to drink
contaminated water so Gov. Rick Snyder’s emergency managers could save
money, should prompt a serious reassessment of the costs of suspending local
democracy and a system of checks and balances in the name of austerity.
The state uses emergency managers to take over local governments, to direct both
Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy and the ill-fated decision to draw chemically
fouled water from the Flint River. In response to the Flint Water Crisis, Eric
Scorsone, a popular emergency management expert at Michigan State University,
admitted “there’s greater risk under an emergency manager that decisions could be
taken that sacrifice other important considerations to the bottom line.”
But in virtually the next breath he said, “I think it’s more about government leaders
in general have to be careful when we’re in a cost-cutting mode …you have to pay
the bills, but you also have to ask yourself how far can you go before you start to
endanger public health.”
When officials routinely make decisions by asking, “how far can you go before
you start to endanger public health,” they admit their own moral bankruptcy.
Protecting people and our environment should begin with the question of how do
we improve the lives of our people, how do we ensure our natural resources for the
future? The standard of how much can we cut before we destroy is obscene.
Protecting the Great Lakes and the people who depend on them begins with the
precautionary principle to avoid harm. Snyder and his EMs have substituted a
recklessness principle: serve the bottom line even if it harms those they are elected
to serve.
 

36  

Moreover, in the case of former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, doing
harm has done no harm to his work record as far as Snyder is concerned. Earley,
after refusing to acknowledge what everyone could see floating in Flint drinking
water, is now the EM for the Detroit Public Schools.
Earley, who had sole, unchecked power in Flint, said the water poisoning was not
his fault. In a truly remarkable statement, Earley denied that he as EM had ultimate
authority and final say over all city operations. In reality, Snyder appoints EMs to
usurp all elected officials in a given jurisdiction. Appointing an emergency
manager is an extreme expression of bad faith in voters and the democratic
process, an expression that Snyder has used primarily on African-American and
Latino voters and communities across Michigan.
The fact that Earley is still in charge of DPS is all anyone needs to know about the
state of Michigan’s racist abuses. Blaming “staff,” “Mayor Walling,” “the media,”
“rhetoric” and anyone and everyone else is merely a ploy so that Earley doesn’t
have to take responsibility for the evil policy he implemented and Snyder
supported. If the latest attempts to salvage DPS after two decades of destructive
state takeovers are to have any credibility whatsoever, the first step is clear —
Earley must go.

How Michigan's Emergency Management Law Poisoned Flint's Children
Alternet
By Robert C. Gibson, October 22, 2015
Flint may have finally reconnected to Detroit’s water infrastructure, but the
damage done to its population by the ill-advised connection to the Flint River is
irreversible. If Michiganders are looking for someone to blame for the travesty in
Flint, they need look no further than Governor Rick Snyder and the emergency
manager Snyder appointed who unilaterally made a decision that put thousands of
children and adults at serious risk.
Emergency Management Enforces Inequality
In 2011, one of the first actions of the Snyder administration and the Republicancontrolled Michigan legislature was to pass Public Act 4 (PA 4), which
strengthened the state’s controversial emergency manager (EM) law. To clarify,
 

37  

the EM law effectively erases the sovereignty of local governments by installing a
state-appointed autocrat whose decisions can override city councils and mayors.
But PA 4 went a step further by allowing EMs to dissolve hard-won collective
bargaining agreements between public sector unions and the state, cut pensions,
and unilaterally decide to privatize public assets. PA 4 was so unpopular that the
state’s unions successfully banded together, organized a ballot referendum to
abolish the law, and got rid of it by a 52 to 48 margin. Just a month later,
Snyder signed an entirely new EM bill into law, thumbing his nose at democracy.
While Snyder maintains the EM laws are necessary to save financially-insolvent
municipalities from themselves, it’s worth noting that Snyder only enforces the
laws in Democratic-voting, predominantly-black communities, even though some
white, Republican-leaning cities and towns are in equally dire financial straits. The
2010 Census data shows that just 14.2 percent of Michigan’s residents are black —
yet 80 percent of Michigan’s black residents have lived under an EM while Snyder
has been governor.
For example, in Handy Township and Livingston County, Cindy Denby and Bill
Rogers — two Republican state representatives hailing from those districts,
respectively — took on millions in debt to build expensive housing developments.
After realizing these bad financial decisions put their lily-white districts at risk of
being taken over by an EM, Denby and Rogers co-sponsored a bill that would
allow a bailout of their towns with state tax dollars should insolvency be declared.
Effectively, this means that the EM law creates two governments — sovereign
ones for white, Republican-voting towns, and banana republics for majority-black
communities, with a state-appointed dictator to make financial decisions on their
behalf. Flint falls into the latter category. And that’s ultimately what led to the
water crisis that poisoned Flint’s population.
“Irreversible” Damage from Lead in Water
In 2014, Flint’s EM, Darnell Earley, singlehandedly made the decision to switch
Flint’s water source from treated Lake Huron water to the Flint River. As the New
York Times reported, residents had long been using the Flint River as a dumping
ground for “car parts, grocery carts, and refrigerators.” And not surprisingly, lab
results of Flint River water samples showed an elevated blood lead level in the
city’s children.
In a recent podcast interview, Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, an adjunct professor of
science and technology studies at Virginia Tech, said that lead was one of the most
heavily-studied chemicals in terms of its effect on the human body, and that Flint
residents have a right to be concerned about the elevated levels of lead in their
water.
 

38  

“Most buildings today in the United States have lead-bearing plumbing
components that can cause risk to human health,” Lambrinidou said. “Even lowlevel lead exposure can cause irreversible health harm.”

Flint Water and the No Blame Game
Michigan Democracy Watch Blog
By Curt Guyette, October 15, 2015
In last week’s press conference announcing that the city of Flint would finally be
allowed to return to Detroit’s water system, Gov. Rick Snyder made it a point to
note that placing blame for the lead poisoning of children is not something he
intends to do.
He wants to address the current problem, learn what can be done better in the
future, and move forward.
Call it the “no-blame” game.
The governor’s spokesperson, Sara Wurfel, is playing it as hard as anyone right
now.
In an interview with the ACLU of Michigan following the governor's tightlymanaged press conference, Wurfel did the best she could to absolve her boss of
any responsibility for the disastrous decision to begin using the Flint River as the
city’s source of drinking water in April 2014.
Asked about the governor’s role in that decision, Wurfel claimed that there was
really no choice to be made, that the city of Detroit kicked Flint off of its system,
thus forcing the switch to river water.
We’re not the only one she’s trying to spin. Wurfel made a similar claim in
a statement to the Flint Journal this week.
According to the paper, Wurfel asserted that the city was forced to find another
source of water after the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department terminated
Flint's contract to continue purchasing water under the terms of its expired
contract.
Maybe the Snyder administration is operating under the theory that a lie repeated
often enough is eventually accepted as fact.
 

39  

But here’s the truth:
Flint did have a choice. It absolutely could have kept using Detroit water until
construction of the Karegondi pipeline, which will bring water from Lake Huron to
Genesee County, is completed next year.
Instead, in a decision based purely on cost, the Flint emergency manager appointed
by Snyder chose to leave the Detroit system early and begin relying on the Flint
River in April 2014.
How do we know that?
Because of a letter the ACLU of Michigan obtained through the Freedom of
Information Act.
On March 7, 2014, then-Emergency Darnell Earley wrote to the DWSD, saying:
“Thank you for the correspondence … which provides Flint with the option of
continuing to purchase water from DWSD following the termination of the current
contract …”
Thanks, but no thanks.
“… the City of Flint has actively pursued using the Flint River as a temporary
water source while the KWA pipeline is being constructed,” wrote Earley. “We
expect the Flint Water Treatment Plant will be fully operational and capable of
treating Flint River water…”
As it turns out, the city, under the control of an emergency manager appointed by
the governor, proved to be entirely incapable of properly treating water from the
highly corrosive Flint River.
As a result of that failure, children were poisoned by lead in the water coming out
of the taps in their homes and, quite possibly, the fountains in their schools.
Lead that was present because the river water is many times more corrosive than
Detroit’s. Lead that was present because Flint officials and the Michigan
Department of Environmental Quality inexplicably stopped adding the same types
of corrosion inhibitors Detroit routinely puts in its water just so a public-health
disaster such as this does not occur.
As calls for a thorough, independent investigation of this debacle increase, the
denials of responsibility by the key players are becoming farcical as they
stumble over themselves in an attempt to avoid blame.
Particularly absurd are Earley’s claims that he bears no responsibility for the
catastrophe that began while he wielded complete control over every aspect of the
 

40  

city’s government. As the Flint Journal’s Ron Fonger reports, Earley recently sent
the paper an email claiming:
"The decision to separate from (the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) and
go with the Karegnondi Water Authority, including the decision to pump Flint
River water in the interim, were both a part of a long-term plan that was approved
by Flint's mayor, and confirmed by a City Council vote of 7-1 in March of 2013 —
a full seven months before I began my term as emergency manager."
Under the state’s far-reaching emergency manager law, Earley clearly had the
authority to do whatever he wanted at that point. So his attempts to shield himself
from responsibility are beyond bogus.
But it is even worse than that.
As the Flint Journal’s Fonger points out:, “Although the Flint City Council voted
in March 2013 in support of moving to the KWA pipeline … there is no record that
the council voted to use the Flint River as a short-term drinking water source.”
Being the current emergency manager in charge of Detroit Public Schools and its
47,000 students, it is easy to see why all this might be a particularly touchy subject
for Earley – and the governor who appointed him to both positions.
Fingers are being pointed in all directions, and lies are being told in an attempt to
avoid responsibility.
In a recent interview with the ACLU of Michigan, Flint Public Works Director
Howard Croft initially tried making the same false claim as Wurfel, saying that
Flint was forced to leave the Detroit system and begin using the river as its water
source.
When confronted with Earley’s letter, he relented, and pointed the finger of blame
at the state, saying the decision to switch came from the governor’s office.
Asked to respond to that accusation, Wurfel tried her best to sidestep the issue. She
could have put the matter to rest immediately by simply declaring: “That is
absolutely untrue.”
But she didn’t say that. Instead, she trotted out the false claim that the city was
forced to make the switch. When pressed on that point, and then asked again about
the governor’s role in making the tragically bad decision to force the people of
Flint to drink from a dangerous river, she again tried to slip out of giving a direct
answer.
““You’re saying that the governor’s office was directly involved? I can’t address
that at all because that’s not accurate.”

 

41  

So she is not addressing a direct question because it is not accurate?
Questions are neither accurate nor inaccurate, but answers should be.
There is usually a compelling reason why evasion and obfuscation are the
responses to a yes or no question. And the reason is this: The people doing the
evading are afraid to tell the truth, and even more afraid to face the consequences
that come with it.

Flint Water Stories
Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell, March 29, 2015
Flint emergency manager Gerald Ambrose is refusing to reconnect to the Detroit
Water system. In a press release defending his decision Ambrose said that Flint’s
water is safe to drink and “It is incomprehensible to me that seven members of the
Flint City Council would want to send more than $12 million a year to the system
serving southeast Michigan.” Ambrose said “Flint water is safe.”
The move to return to the Detroit Water System was lead by Flint Councilman Eric
Mays.
I met Councilman Mays last Saturday. We were part of a group of about 100
people gathered in the Flint Youth Theater as part of the Healing Stories on Racial
Equity sponsored by the Flint Strong Stones and the Michigan Roundtable for
Diversity and Inclusion.
People took the stage to tell of fears of the police, problems with transportation and
concern for elders in public housing. But the primary focus of everyone was the
water crisis in the city. Since leaving the Detroit Water System in April, residents
have had trouble with their water. Here is some of what we heard.
The first woman to step forward said that even her cat wont drink the water out of
her tap. She had been taken to the hospital after drinking some soup made for her
with tap water. She explained that she had gotten a bill for over $900. “So now I
am paying for something I don’t drink and paying $150 for bottled water a month.
I take a shower and I itch. I was dehydrated from soup. But I am not about to lose
my home. I have to choose between property tax and water. I’m 72 years old and
getting tired, and my cat only has three or four more lives left.”
 

42  

Her concerns were echoed by all the speakers. Many spoke of the rashes, skin
irritation, and foul smell and taste of the water. Several speakers brought bottles
taken from their taps to show the audience the brown color and sediment floating
in it.
Among the most moving of the stories was that told by the mother of an autistic
son. He looked forward to his bath every day as a way to calm himself. Now she
has to keep him away from the tub. She explained that if he bathes in the water “he
gets sick, his eyes are blood shot. He has a rash and a cough.”
The last speaker of the day was a photojournalist who said that he had spent much
of his time in Africa, where “the water is better.” He told the story of his hero,
Gordon Parks, who had been challenged as a young photographer in the south to
confront racial segregation. He had faced the question, “What are you going to do
about it?”
The young man looked at the audience and said, “So I ask you, what are you going
to do about it?”
Councilman Mays obviously responded, moving to reconnect Flint to Detroit
Water. The only thing incomprehensible about this situation is why anyone, even
an out of touch emergency manager, would refuse to act quickly to restore safe
water to people.

WATER IS A HUMAN RIGHT!

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
 

43  

Additional Resources for Detroit Water Struggle
Websites
•   People’s Water Board Coalition (PWB): http://www.peopleswaterboard.org/
•   We the People of Detroit (WTP): http://www.wethepeopleofdetroit.com/
•   Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM): http://www.d-rem.org/
•   Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO): http://www.mwro.org/
•   Water Affordability Plan (WAP): http://michiganwro.blogspot.com/p/wateraffordability-program.html
•   Detroit Minds Dying: http://www.detroitmindsdying.org/
Films and Interviews
•   I Do Mind Dying: http://www.detroitmindsdying.org/feature-cuts/
•   Disorder in the Court: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKYAqn2TwnA
•   Homrich 9 Trial on Democracy Now!:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVAsSq6gU_4
•   Drops in the Bucket: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywzicIRVYoc
•   Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey July 2015:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jX4b59mq2M&feature=youtu.be
•   In Detroit, Private Demolition Company Shuts Off Water to Pregnant Woman
during Ramadan: https://vimeo.com/132829920
•   Detroit Water, Not Flowing:
http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/21stcentury/detail/3993059906001.html
•   Interview with Peter Hammer: https://vimeo.com/132988371
•   Water Hoarding, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart:
http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/qs7t3u/water-hoarding

 

44  

Additional Resources for Flint Water Struggle
Websites
•   Water You Fighting For?: http://www.wateryoufightingfor.com/
•   Flint Water Study Updates: http://flintwaterstudy.org/
Film and Interviews
•   Circle of Lies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEWBGE31qCY
•   Hard to Swallow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4n9ZeDuhdU
•   Interview with Curt Guyette: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P53l7OmNrfs
•   Interview with Melissa Mays and Curt Guyette on Democracy Now!:
http://www.democracynow.org/2015/12/17/how_flint_michigan_saved_money
_and
•   Rachel Maddow Show: http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddowshow/watch/toxic-water-tragedy-points-directly-to-snyder-597037635687
•   Good People, Bad Water: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAC73JRTrn8
•   Corrosive Impact: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27K54-lV-Z4

 

45