Part II: Regional Water Authority Sets Terms for the Next 40 Years

In our last post, we examined some of the regional authorities in Southeast Michigan. In this post we will continue that discussion by considering the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). Like the Detroit Zoo Authorities, the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority, and the Detroit Institute of Arts authorities, the GLWA is a regional entity created in response to Detroit’s financial crisis. In October of 2014, the GLWA was approved by Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties’ Board of Commissioners and on Jan. 1, 2016 the regional authority became fully operational. In addition to creating the authority, the county boards’ approval allowed the GLWA to lease water and sewer infrastructure from the city of Detroit for 40 years at a cost of $50 million a year. The GLWA is made up of six members: two appointed by the Mayor of Detroit, one each by Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, and one by the Governor from the service area outside the three counties. A county can leave the authority if it meets the criteria below:

    • Two-third majority vote by the Board of Commissioners to leave
    • Unanimous vote by GLWA, excluding the county wishing to leave
    • Payment of all financial obligations
    • Water and Sewer services may continue via contract

While the GLWA has no tax power, it does have bonding power, according to its articles of incorporation. This power provides the regional entity the ability to bond for improvements to the water/sewer infrastructure within its service area. Debt service for improvements to the city of Detroit’s system is the responsibility of the city though, according to the articles of incorporation. The lease money paid to the city though can be used for water and sewer improvements on Detroit Water and Sewer Department (DWSD) infrastructure.

The approval of the GLWA also means that all former DSWD wholesale customers (127, 75% of which are in the tri-county area), with the exception of the city of Detroit, are now customers of the Great Lakes Water Authority, according to a statement released by the authority. While other water authorities/commissions are highlighted in the map below, these too are connected into the GLWA system.

The Detroit/GLWA system consists of:

  • 640 miles of large water and sewer pipes
  • Five water treatment facilities
  • One major sewage treatment plant

Within this system, Detroit is to remain in control of its 3,000 miles of local sewer pipes and 3,400 miles of local water mains serving the neighborhoods of Detroit.

In addition, of the 1,400 DWSD employees, about 900 employees are to become GLWA employees, according to the GLWA Articles of Incorporation.


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