Oct 30, 2017
A break in a 48-inch water main forced the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to issue a boil water advisory to almost 305,000 residents of Oakland County, just north of Detroit. The boil water alert caused the closure of all schools in cities and dozens of additional individual schools. Hospitals were forced to cancel elective surgeries and transfer some patients to hospitals outside the affected areas.
Some cities had no water flowing at all, and some still remained under the boil water alert up to at least six days later.
It was the third such boil water alert issued by the GLWA in just over six months, after one affecting Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck and another in Livonia.
The GLWA is a regional board that took control of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) as part of the bankruptcy agreement imposed on the city in 2014 by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his hand-picked city emergency manager Kevyn Orr. For many years prior to the takeover, suburban politicians had stoked animosity against the DWSD over supposedly exorbitant rates suburban residents were charged for their water. But the DWSD system was considered one of the best in the world, thanks in part to its highly skilled, experienced workforce.
The GLWA hired the consulting firm Veolia North America (VNA) to find ways to cut costs. Together they have since reduced the DWSD’s workforce by more than 40 percent, shut off water to tens of thousands of residents, and slashed the budget for maintenance of the water system.
VNA, incidentally, also had a role in the Flint water crisis. The State of Michigan sued VNA in 2016 for “professional negligence, fraud, and public nuisance” after the firm declared Flint’s water supply “safe” and “in compliance with drinking water standards” despite complaints of health problems from many residents.
There were already water main breaks occurring before the GLWA’s takeover of the water department, but the layoffs and budget cuts have only made things worse.
The exact cause of the latest water main break has yet to be determined. The GLWA has floated the theory that a nearby power station failed, causing valves in the water system to shut down. The closing of the valves may have caused pressure to build up, so that when the valves re-opened, a back and forth wave called a “water hammer” resulted and caused the water main to burst.
In other words, this latest breakdown may have been due to a combination of both a broken electrical system AND a decrepit water system!
This is yet another example of an aging infrastructure falling apart at the seams. It’s a product of the decay of capitalism, and politicians serving only their own short-term interests and those of their wealthy benefactors.