Gimme Some More Water

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Six months ago, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced that it would start shutting off services to households and businesses with delinquent accounts. We’ve written occasionally about what’s been happening between the DWSD and the people of Detroit, and we thought that we knew the background leading up to the shutoffs. However, we appear to have been mistaken.

On Monday, The Grist reported that the shutoffs may not be due to people not paying their bills on time, but instead could be due to the DWSD trying to fix an enormous billing mistake they made six years ago. How enormous? Try $115 million.

In documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Alice Jennings, a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the DWSD is shown not as a company that has been patient with deadbeat customers for many years, but as a incompetent bureaucracy that can’t keep its billing straight.

It seems that they went through a “systems change,” and somehow forgot to bill one third of their customers for sewage service. The customers were still getting bills, so they didn’t realize anything was wrong; they just weren’t being billed for sewage service.

The documents were released as part of Lyda v. City of Detroit, a class action lawsuit which was filed with help from the ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The lawsuit argues that the DWSD broke its own rules when it began shutting off services with no advance warning, by shutting off water to people who were actively disputing their bills, and by continuing to shut off water to homes even after the city supposedly had a shutoff moratorium in place, as well as actively discriminating on racial and economic lines as to who got shut off.

We’d laugh about the sheer incompetence shown by the DWSD in years past if it didn’t have such a horrific impact today on the most disadvantaged residents of the city the DWSD is supposed to be serving. Recently, the DWSD has resumed the shutting off of services to residential customers they claim are overdue. But, why are they overdue? Is it due to non-payment, or is it due to gross incompetence? We suspect it’s the latter.

Occupy World Writes calls for a moratorium on shutting off residential customers’ services by the DWSD until their responsibility in this matter is determined. The people shouldn’t have to pay for the gross incompetence of one of their service providers.

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