Detroit’s water crisis: privatization, public health and human rights

detroit water privatizationMost of the news coverage about the recent water crisis in Detroit has focused on the decision of the utility to begin cutting off water to residents with unpaid bills. Of course, soundbites of upset residents make for the most dramatic one-minute news stories. Thankfully, this piece from Nation of Change digs deeper into the problem. In particular, the article puts the current situation into the larger historical context and explains how the current situation is a prelude to a looming privatization fight.

In the 42 years since the passage of the Clean Water Act, federal funding for municipal water has dropped by 80 percent. Local governments paid over $111 billion in 2010 alone for water delivery. Without increased federal funding, water will only become more expensive for poor residents of large cities like Detroit, paving the way for privatization.

According to Williams, United Water – a company based in New Jersey, and owned by multinational giant Suez Environment – is already preparing to make a bid on Detroit’s water infrastructure, which Kevyn Orr would be prepared to accept in return for $47 million in annual payments over 40 years from the private water companies. Such a privatization plan would lead to the creation of the Great Lakes Regional Authority to manage all Detroit Water and Sewage Department infrastructure, making the entire city a customer of the water authority. Williams believes if that plan were to go through, the next step would be to privatize the Detroit River and the Great Lakes.

“We want to stop the privatization of the water department so it remains as a public commons,” Williams said. “It’s a very dangerous precedent to cut off people’s water and not give them any sort of reconciliation or negotiation.”

Williams and others are calling on the City of Detroit to halt all water shutoffs and reinstate the Water Affordability Plan that Gov. Snyder overturned in 2010. On July 18, Detroit activists and thousands of attendees at the annual Netroots Nation conference will join together downtown to protest the water shut offs.

Speaking of public utilities, we enjoyed this article about why Americans should consider converting Amazon and Google to public companies. This obviously fits into the “snowball’s chance in hell” category of policy debates. Nevertheless, the Alternet piece offers some interesting food for thought. The author gives several reasons why we might want to consider the proposal, one of which is the companies’ reliance on a public invention – the  Internet – as  the foundation of their business models:

No matter how they spin it, these corporations were not created in garages or by inventive entrepreneurs. The core technology behind them is the Internet, a publicly funded platform for which they pay no users’ fee. In fact, they do everything they can to avoid paying their taxes.

Big Tech’s use of public technology means that it operates in a technological “commons,” which they are using solely for [their] own gain, without regard for the public interest. Meanwhile the United States government devotes considerable taxpayer resource to protecting them – from patent infringement, cyberterrorism and other external threats.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *