Adventures in Detroit water bills, DTE criticism continues, and making space for city birds

September 6, 2019 | CO2 408.63 ppm <<

How one woman’s water bill racked up thousands in a house with no plumbing

In the midst of a cascade of bad water news in Detroit and Highland Park—from shutoffs to elevated lead levelsOutlier Media has a piece this week on the lengths some Detroiters must go to to correct errors in their water bills.

Kija Gray received a bill for $3,762 on a house purchased from the Detroit Land Bank that had NO PLUMBING, save for a few capped-off pipes. Although the judge at her hearing ordered a correction to her bill of roughly $4,000, she described the experience as “going into your courtroom with your data, like I’m going into a gun battle with a knife. They have access to way more information than I do.”

After all this, Gray still hasn’t seen the charge come off her water bill. According to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), customers have disputed a total of $447,801 in charges this year, only $100,000 of which has been credited back by the Administrative Law Judge that resolves these disputes.

Outlier raises questions about DWSD’s numbers, drawing attention to a 2017 audit that showed Detroit’s water main breaks were 80% higher than the national average. In 2016 Detroit also failed to test a single residential meter to see if they were working properly. Both of these issues could compound problems with billing, adding to water access issues in a city where water prices are already high and where 11,801 homes have had their water shut off since April.

In positive water news, lead and copper-free drinking water is flowing in all Detroit schools for the first time in a year. On the flip side, thousands of students across Michigan have returned to schools with PFAS in their drinking water.

Criticism of DTE Energy continues with comments on battery storage 

Keeping track of all the concerns people have with DTE Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is quickly becoming a full time job over here at Planet Detroit. A new chapter opened in this highly technical saga this week when Skiles Boyd, DTE’s vice president of environmental management and resources, told the National Conference of State Legislators that battery storage for solar power and other renewable sources are “uneconomical and limited in operational availability.”

Could DTE’s position have anything to do with its investment in natural gas infrastructure? This was a questioned posed by the Energy and Policy Institute. According to a presentation from DTE, its business arm invested $4 billion in natural gas between 2007 and 2017 with plans to invest billions more in gas extraction and pipelines.

Among the technologies that Skiles advocates for in his remarks are “carbon capture and storage” or CCS. Although much talked about, CCS has not been proven to be economical or workable on a large scale, while battery storage is becoming more efficient and affordable.

A number of individuals and organizations have been speaking out and urging the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to reject DTE’s IRP. A few weeks ago Charlotte Jameson—energy policy and legislative affairs director of Michigan Environmental Council— joined this chorus, saying that DTE’s plan is “riddled with flaws that bias the outcome away from clean, renewable energy”. Meanwhile, Ariana Gonzalez from the Natural Resources Defense Council offers her own critique, noting that “DTE repeatedly shortchanged the value of energy efficiency and renewables throughout its analysis.”

Green space news: A park for Detroit birds and an MSU nature study 

The Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit Audubon, with a grant from National Geographic, is helping turn Callahan Park near Detroit’s Poletown East neighborhood into quality bird habitat by cleaning up the park and seeding native grasses and wildflowers. The city’s location on the Detroit River already makes for great migratory stopover habitat for a number of species, but this initiatives hopes to expand it.

Diane Cheklich, director and chair of Detroit Audubon's conservation committee, says the project is intended to “restore habitat for grassland species while improving the local community's access to nature”.

Related: Michigan State University announced plans to conduct a five-year study on the potential health effects of restored natural areas on Detroit residents. This initiative, funded by the National Institutes of Health, looks at how residents’ baseline health indicators like stress biomarkers, body mass index and blood pressure change in response to park improvements and access.

Although green space can have numerous potential health benefits, recent research has also shown that the unintentional re-wilding of the city has increased pollen levels that can exacerbate allergies and asthma.

New regional transit initiative in 2020? 

Oakland County’s new County Executive David Coulter has expressed his support for some kind of regional transit initiative on the 2020 ballot, telling the Detroit Free Press, “if we're going to be competitive in the long term, we need to have transit." Coulter’s position marks a stark shift from former Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who had been skeptical of improved regional transit for years.

Could the Great Lakes become “evaporation dominant”?

An article in The Guardian this week explored the connections between historically high water levels in the Great Lakes, the climate crisis, and the expectation that levels will swing between historic highs and lows.

Among the more concerning aspects of the piece was the assertion by Richard B Rood, professor in University of Michigan’s department of climate and space sciences and engineering, that:

If we don’t mitigate our emissions … and the temperature gets to a certain level, then it does become evaporation dominant.”

We interpret “evaporation dominant” to be science-speak for “drying up.”

Bridge Magazine offered a photo essay that highlights the destruction, inconvenience and general moisture still present across much of the region. Related: The Traverse City Record Eagle says that Leland, Michigan’s Fishtown has been able to “reel in” a grant from the Consumers Energy Foundation to restore the shanties that could serve as a set for the next Popeye movie, should it ever go into production (fingers crossed!).

Also related: You may notice slow-moving freighters on the Detroit River being mindful of their wakes in an effort to avoid shoreline damage.

In other Great Lakes news, an internal audit found that the Office of the Great Lakes, which oversees federal spending on the Great Lakes Areas of Concern program, mismanaged federal funds, broke grant rules, and hasn’t updated plans in years. Not so great.

Seven hours of climate debate

There was no shortage of “hot air” (dad joke, we apologize) during the seven-hour marathon CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall. Even we couldn’t sit through all of it, so here are some “hot takes” (ouch, sorry again!) from some pundits we like:

In related climate and Trump news, the White House has decided to roll back energy efficiency requirements for light bulbs.

Kevin Bacon won best tweet:

Connect: Engage with Detroit’s environment

Have an opportunity you’d like to see featured here? Let us know.

September 7 | Native Plant Sale, North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy | Clarkston  >>>

September 7 | Nature Walk | Eliza Howell Park, Detroit | >>>

September 7 | Native Garden Tour | Stage Nature Center, Troy | >>>

September 8 | Make Food Not Waste | Eastern Market >>>

September 8 | Michigan Monarch Festival | Clarkston >>>

September 8 | Downriver Butterflies Plant Swap | Lincoln Park >>>

September 10 | The 13th Annual Garden Party on Belle Isle | Belle Isle >>>

September 12 | Crafts on the Clinton | Yates Cider Mill >>>

September 14 | Fall Migratory Bird Walk #1 | Davisburg >>>

September 14 | Monarch Butterfly Tag & Release | Livonia >>>

September 14 | Bird Walk at Ford House | Grosse Pointe >>>

September 15 | Cranbrook Gardens Tour | Bloomfield Hills >>>

September 18 | Reaching for Net Zero Commercial Buildings in Michigan | Detroit >>>

September 19 | Community Solar-“Like” | Webinar >>>

September 21 | 13th Annual D-Town Farm Harvest Festival | Detroit >>>

September 21 | Applied Soil Mycology with Leif Olson (hosted by FungiFreights | Detroit >>>

September 24 | The Gardening Guru: Soil, Water and Hardscapes | Southfield >>>

September 30 | Michigan Paddle Stewards | Gibraltar >>>

October 4 | Wild Night Out | Pontiac >>>

October 5 | State of Compost | Detroit >>>

October 9 | Bees, pollination and beekeeping | Clinton Township >>>

November 20 | Michigan Sustainability Conference | Lansing >>>

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