Thursday, October 25, 2012

Water Board Authorizes Director to Negotiate New Supply Contract with City of Flint (UPDATED)

The Board of Water Commissioners yesterday authorized Director Sue McCormick to negotiate a new 30 year water supply contract with the City of Flint.  The new contract would allow the City of Flint to blend DWSD water with water taken (and treated) from the Flint River, but with at least one caveat.

A condition of accepting the City of Flint's blending request is that the water from Detroit be treated as "source" water and pass through Flint's own water treatment plant (WTP), where it would be added to treated water from the Flint River. Detroit water would comprise 2/3 of the final output.  DWSD currently delivers treated water through Flint's distribution system. The City of Flint would be responsible for any capital costs associated with re-routing DWSD water through the Flint WTP. (Note: This condition might be a deal breaker for Flint, whose Emergency Manager is quoted here as saying that these additional capital costs could off-set any anticipated savings.)

In another interesting development, Director Sue McCormick reported that DWSD had received a written request from the Genesee County Drain Commissioner's Office to purchase up to 85 million gallons per day of untreated (raw) water. In an October 17, 2012 letter, Deputy Drain Commissioner John O'Brien requested the cost and terms and conditions under which DWSD would agree to sell raw water to Genesee County under a 30 year contract.  

Comment: Genesee County's request to buy raw water from Detroit, coming at this point in time, is a very odd request. The Genesee County Drain Commissioner (Jeff Wright) spearheaded the creation of the Karegnondi Water Authority in 2009 (here), with the stated desire to break away from Detroit. The KWA has developed plans to construct its own $600 million pipeline in 2011 (here), and announced just two weeks ago that it planned to sell $35 million in bonds to begin construction of its own raw water intake.  

With the enormous head of steam that's been built up by elected officials pushing for a new $600 million (raw) water pipeline, why would Genesee County suddenly seek an agreement to buy raw water from Detroit? Something doesn't add up here. Does anyone know what's really going on here?

If you're interested in a copy of Genesee County's recent request to purchase raw water from DWSD, I'd be glad to e-mail it to you. Just write me and put "DWSD Raw Water" in the reference field.

Update (10/26): Earlier today, journalist Ron Fonger with hosted an online Q&A with Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright (here). I was unable to participate live, but I e-mailed Mr. Fonger earlier this morning and asked if would ask Mr. Wright about the timing of Genesee County's recent request to purchase raw water from Detroit. In short, why now? Mr. Wright responded to my question  during the online chat session:
"For three years, we've asked Detroit to consider selling us raw water so we can treat it ourselves, supply it to our people and save dollars. They've refused, up until three weeks ago when the new director of DWSD, Sue McCormick, made a public statement that Detroit would be willing to sell raw water.  
"So our request is twofold: 1. if they are willing to sell raw water, at what price? 2. Could this be cheaper than building our own intake. 
"We want to know what their terms would be because it may be more cost effective to buy water from them instead of building a new intake."   

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