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35 years later, Detroit's sewer and water department no longer under federal oversight

A sewage main for the Detroit sewer and water system.
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

Running the country's largest wastewater treatment plant is not easy.

You've got to treat more than 700 million gallons of 'who-knows-what' every day.

In 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department wasn't complying with federal Clean Water Act laws. That's when federal oversight over the department began.

That oversight ends today, according to federal judge Sean Cox.

From the blog DWSD Update:

"The Court concludes that, after more than thirty-five years of federal oversight, the DWSD has achieved substantial compliance with its NPDES permit and the Clean Water Act. This Court shall therefore terminate the Second Amended Consent Judgment and close this case because the existing Administrative Consent Order is a sufficient mechanism to address any future issues regarding compliance with the DWSD's NPDES permit and the Clean Water Act."

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reports judge Cox said he believes a court-mandated committee has put together a viable plan to fix the root problems in the DWSD.

After reviewing a final director’s report issued this month, Cox writes: "While the DWSD’s compliance record is still not perfect, is it vastly improved." Cox notes the system now has an "empowered" Board of Water Commissioners with representatives from across southeast Michigan, so he’s now terminating federal oversight.

Much has been made over who will retain control over the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department.

Since the system's underground tunnels and pipes serve communities outside of the city of Detroit, many have called for regional control over the Department.

The city of Detroit has resisted this plan.

Judge Cox declined a request to turn the DWSD over to a regional authority. Again, from DWSD Update:

"This Court has no intention of ordering the creation of a regional authority and has no intention of ordering or approving the transfer of DWSD's assets to a regional authority. This Court lacks the authority to do so. Moreover, even if this Court had the authority to order what is not being proposed, the Court would not do so for multiple reasons"

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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