Water rates are set to rise
Board expects increase in Detroit and suburbs

January 24, 2001

BY BILL LAITNER
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Water rates will soon leap for many of the 4 million Michiganders served by the City of Detroit.

Communities outside Detroit will learn today that they can expect an average 11.6-percent hike this year; and Detroiters will get a 7.1-percent jump, said Kathleen Leavey, interim director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

The average increases in sewage rates will be 7.9 percent outside Detroit and 13.7 percent in the city.

The proposed rates, subject to Detroit City Council approval, will be announced today at a hearing at the Detroit Water Board Building, the first of two forums where suburban leaders can air views of this year's rates. The increases vary from area to area, according to a nationally accepted formula that uses distance and elevation from Detroit's pumps, Detroit officials said.

Planning to attend today's meeting is the head of the Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority, which provides water to 11 communities including Berkley, Birmingham, Clawson, Royal Oak and Southfield.

Tom Waffen, general manager of SOCWA, said he will protest his users' impending 12.66-percent increase.

"We just heard about this. After years of getting increases of 3, 4, 5 percent, this is a shock," Waffen said Tuesday. He said he will argue for spreading the increase over several years. Last year's increase was 2.2 percent, Waffen said.

Most of this year's water and sewage rate increases are going to pay for major investments in Detroit's system, one of the largest in the world.

Renovating the city's century-old purification plant will cost nearly $300 million. Among improvements, it will allow for the use of less chlorine and substitute safer and more effective ozone. Chlorine byproducts have been linked to tiny but measurable increases in cancer rates.

The city also is replacing much of its huge sewage treatment plant in southwest Detroit, at a cost of about $500 million. It is one-third of the way through spending about $1 billion to build retention basins on the Rouge River, to combat pollution of the Detroit River.

Even after this year's increase, Detroit's combined water-and-sewage charges are the fourth cheapest nationwide among 20 major cities, according to Black & Veatch, a Kansas City-based municipal consulting firm that publishes nationwide water and sewage rates.

Contact BILL LAITNER at 248-586-2608.