The Orion Township water tower along Brown Road, pictured Thursday March 20, 2014.
(Vaughn Gurganian-The Oakland Press)
By John Turk, The Oakland Press
Oakland County officials have proposed to put $500,000 towards a study into the county’s other options for water treatment as talks to join a regional water authority run through the Detroit Water and Sewage Department have come to a crawl.
The county has hired lawyers to protect contracts it has with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, or DWSD, while Detroit’s leaders have announced they’ll begin to look at other options, though Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has said he’d rather lease the water department through an authority that includes Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
Commissioner Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, said this is a crucial period for decision makers because what Oakland decides in the coming months will ultimately impact billions of dollars for residents’ children and grandchildren.
“These decisions will affect jobs, income taxes, property taxes, business retention and recruitment and more over many decades,” said Runestad, who introduced the resolution to the Board of Commissioners during a Wednesday public meeting. “There are a number of considerations to be made, so we have to do this appropriately … it will cost less than a dollar a (county resident). We’re making 40 years worth of decisions this year alone.”
The fate of the DWSD, which provides services to around 4 million residents in eight counties, has been a major factor in Detroit’s bankruptcy, and city leaders have sought ways to make money through it to pay for police, fire and infrastructure.
One of those ways was a proposal from Orr to lease the DWSD through a regional authority — a plan that could be expected to lock Oakland and other counties in for 40 years at around $47 million a year.
For some local residents, the outcome of any talks on water isn’t of interest, as they get water elsewhere.
Sherry Lazdinsh, who lived in Clawson until mid-2013, used to pay about $600 a year for water. Clawson is one of about 33 Oakland communities that receives water services through Detroit.
“I didn’t think it was ridiculously high, as my other utilities such as gas and electric were triple the price,” she said. “But now I live on a well and we pay about $10 a month for water as the well uses electricity to get the water to the house.”
Northern Oakland County resident Nina Irwin wrote in a Facebook post: “Thankful I have well water.”
But Runestad said quality of life ramifications will be seen throughout the county when a decision is made, regardless whether residents get their water locally or through the DWSD.
Plans for a water withdrawal pipeline from Lake Huron through Genesee, Lapeer and Sanilac counties under a formed entity called the Karegnondi Water Authority are already underway. Runestad and others have proposed that Oakland hook onto the pipeline for water.
Another option considered by Oakland’s previously-formed study group is consolidating the county’s water hubs in Pontiac, Farmington, Farmington Hills and other locations inside county lines.
The timeline for a study into the options, and for the county to actually make a decision, is six months to a year, said Oakland County Deputy Executive Gerald Poisson.
However, the outlook from any angle is dismal, he said.
“About $2.5-$5 billion over 10 years are needed regardless of who runs the (water) system. Ultimately, the rates will go up,” he said.
Meanwhile, the county continues to wait for DWSD’s balance sheets, but hasn’t received anything since June 2013, added Deputy Executive Bob Daddow, who commented on a quote Detroit’s Orr recently made to the Detroit Free Press.
“He said he’s going to give us the information, which confirms — this is 10 months into the discussions — that he doesn’t have it,” Daddow said. Those are the “games that are being played. We don’t get into games.”