Maybe Rotary International Can Fund a Well Project for Detroit


Grab a bucket
Credit: Bernt Rostad / photo on flickr

Business-oriented service club Rotary International raises money to fund projects to help build clean water wells for third-world citizens in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (example of their efforts here; full disclosure: I'm an extremely lapsed Rotary member from back during my newspaperman days).  Maybe we should consider sending them up to Detroit.

The latest news in the decades-long collapse of Motor City is that the Detroit Water and Sewage Department began cracking down on businesses and residents who had fallen behind on their bills, sending out tens of thousands of turn-off warnings. In May, the city cut off the water to about 4,500 residents. A spokesman for the department said that most of the affected people made arrangements to turn the water back on within 48 hours. But since then several local groups have essentially embraced Detroit's status as a third-world municipality and has called on United Nations for aid. From the Detroit Free Press:

The coalition stated in an 8-page report issued June 18 that it heard directly from people impacted by the shutoffs, who claimed they were given no warning.

"Sick people have been left without running water and working toilets," the report states. "People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook."

The coalition is calling for services to be restored and for state and federal agencies to help prevent a transfer of the utility's financial burden onto residents who are currently paying "exorbitant rates."

The news report unfortunately lacks any context about the claim of "exorbitant rates." Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in the same story claims that water rates in Detroit have increased by 119 percent over the past decade, which, while it seems like a big number, I don't believe is actually out of line with what other municipalities have experienced. The Detroit water department offers this chart (pdf) showing their rates from 2010 being on the low end compared to other large municipalities.

Nevertheless, after the outrage and press coverage bubbled up, Detroit announced an $800,000 program to help low-income residents pay water bills. Part of the money will be paid for by a 50-cent charge on all water bills, though there have apparently also been private donations. They need to call Rotary in there to build some wells, guys!