Water authority set to ‘right-size’ Detroit area system

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

The board of the Great Lakes Water Authority met Wednesday afternoon and immediately set about the task of “right-sizing” the water system that serves Metro Detroit as it transitions toward regional control.

In the authority’s first joint gathering with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s Board of Commissioners, authority officials reviewed the Water Master Plan put together for the new entity. And it calls for some major changes to the system’s long-term plan, which was completed in 2004.

“Historic today is the conclusion of that water master plan and our first request … for you to set us on our way forward toward implementation of some of those recommendations,” said Sue McCormick, the GLWA’s chief executive officer.

That master plan calls for reducing the size of the water treatment and delivery system to bring it more in line with current population and usage trends. The plan put together in 2004 had projected the system would now be serving 6 million people and had called for a $9 billion spending plan to run through 2050.

Instead, the system has 4 million customers.

The updated plan calls for a $2.9 billion spending plan to run through 20 years. It also reduces the system’s total daily capacity from 1,760 million gallons to 1,040 million gallons.

Additional savings would be culled from:

■Right-sizing the system’s treatment plants for a savings of $455 million.

■Reducing the number of booster pumping stations to save $40 million.

■Implementing energy cost reductions totaling $4 million annually.

Equally important for Metro Detroit’s aging infrastructure, the new master plan calls for spending $25 million annually for water main renewal. That total would allow the system to replace 1 percent of the lines per year.

Carl Johnson, lead project manager for the Water Master Plan, said the strategy provides flexibility in the event that the region’s water and population circumstances change.

“What we’re talking about here today is a reduction in the size of this system…,” he said. “It also provides the opportunity to plan for if things change to where we can sell more water.”

The authority board voted last month to lease Detroit’s water and sewer systems from the city for $50 million a year. Customers still will receive water and sewer bills from their communities, but communities outside Detroit will buy water from the authority, not the city.

Several conditions must be met by Jan. 1 before the authority begins operations. They include moving communities’ contracts from the DWSD to the authority and getting actuarial reports from the department’s retiree systems.