It Didn’t Stop at Detroit: For Your Water Pay Up or Die *
By David Simon
“In places like Benton Harbor, Michigan and Detroit, there is something called the emergency manager, which essentially is a local dictator. He can depose the mayor and offer decrees and answer to no one except the governor. In these two cities and others, because they are lacking tax revenue (because of lack of industry) they are jacking up the water rates as much as 40%. … One of the people who was leading the charge against this stuff was recently convicted in a kangaroo court in Benton Harbor and is now facing 20 years in prison. He is Reverend Pinkney.” – Brandon Turbeville
“Little bitty Benton Harbor was the testing ground. It was the testing ground to see what they can get away with. …It’s comin’ to your city next, whether you like it or not.” – Rev. Edward Pinkney
Readers may remember my past article dealing with the apparent corruption regarding water rates in places like Dekalb County, Georgia. Electricity, Gas, Water. It’s crucial that people be aware that they are not safe from those providing these services and necessities. They should know that their “government” can even move to take water from them.
But Dekalb County is not the only place in the United States where water rates and the restriction of access to water has become a significant issue. As the quotes above demonstrate, Benton Harbor, Michigan appears to be ground zero in the battle for access to water.
Reverend Pinkney had been, up until his recent conviction, leading the charge for the people of Benton Harbor. As the World Austerity Report writes,
For years Reverend Edward Pinkney has been fighting the slow move to takeover, privatize, loot, and gentrify Benton Harbor. He has been fighting not only for the survival of his own city as well as Michigan state, but for his personal freedom.
Since 2003, Rev. Pinkney has endured prejudice by white juries and lawyers, been fined, jailed, released, put on probation, fined for exercising his first amendment rights, and jailed again. More recently, in true David and Goliath fashion, Rev. Pinkney had successfully gathered sufficient petitions to force a recall election of Mayor James Hightower. Pinkney warned that Hightower would use all his resources (Whirlpool Corporation, Sheriff Bailey, prosecutor Mike Sepic, and County Clerk Sharon Tyler, to name a few) against Rev. Pinkney. Unfortunately, the law means very little to those who wish to privatize and asset strip public utilities, schools, roads, and even government.
Benton Harbor as well as Detroit and other cities with Emergency Managers have seen the privatization of public schools, parks, and utilities. The takeover has now shifted into a form what can only be understood as genocidal: the shutting off of water to its own citizens, as is currently happening in Detroit. [Emphasis added.]
But “emergency managers” are not the only way to take water from people or charge them fortunes they can’t pay.
In Georgia, the technique is somewhat more subtle. There, water providers do not jack up the rates since doing so would cause a public outcry and protest. Instead, they send out water wills that are fictitious and that have no basis in actual water usage – bills as high or higher than 10 times more than the normal rate, often reaching the amount of three to six thousand dollars. When customers call to complain, the water board’s phone system conveniently doesn’t work and they end up reaching no one. And when they call the office of the CEO of the county, as people have been doing at the rate of nearly 50 calls per day for months, nothing happens. Letters of complaint go unanswered.
For those who may not fully understand the nature of the “Dekalb County Water Scam,” I encourage you to read my past article “Is Dekalb County Georgia Government Running An Immense Financial Scam?”
In my article, I presented a sample of a number of complaints that typify the types of comments found regarding the water rates in Dekalb County. In the time since that article, the complaints have continued to roll in as can be seen from reading the reviews of Dekalb County Water and Sewer.
A sample of these reviews are as follows:
28 days ago
I live alone in the last few months my bill has been between $200-400 for a single household, I have paid someone to check to see if there’s a leak unseen, no leak – I’m waiting & hoping the county will see their errors, correct it & refund based on their mistakes
2 months ago
My water bill has doubled since my last bill. I know it is incorrect because I had to shut off the water from the outside because I was having work done inside my house. I also turn off my water vale in my bath room when I am not home. I think they are just guestamating the meter reading and not actually coming out to read. Right now I would give Dekalb County Water & Sewer a grade of F
8 months ago
Horrible Customer Service! After two billings of astronomical water bills I contacted DeKalb County Water & Sewer to come out and check my meter for a leaks. We corrected the problem and then went to the office to request an adjustment on our bill. We followed all the steps. I’ve made several attempts for the last 2 weeks to contact them to no avail. since their ENHANCED AUTOMATED TELEPHONE SYSTEM just takes you through the horse and pony show to tell you that all the agents are busy and to try your call at a later time. Really!? It doesn’t matter the time of day you call…. it’s always the same. I have resorted to emailing. As a residence of Dekalb County. I am very disappointed with the services rendered while you are empting my purse!
over a year ago
No number to call in outage – We have a water outage in our neighborhood and there is no number to call, as far as I know, to report it.
Terry R over a year ago
BILLING Is Just Incompetent with NO Follow through !! – I have had no less than 5 incorrect water bills from the utility. Some were in over $700.00 in a billing cycle.
Each occurence they have read the meter and agreed it was an incorrect reading.
would you not think that the meter reader who was incompetent causing this many problems would be terminated and or reassingned.
My last months bill indicated over 9,000 gallons. Single
household. Low flow toilets. They agreed to check the readings and call me back.
The next thing I will get is a termination notice.
What else can I do raise this valid concern for over a year.
In the case of Reverend Pinkney, are the Powers That Be coming down so hard on him because of what he might uncover and not just because of his protesting? Such was the case for Kevin Annett who was forced out of the United Church in Canada when he started looking into deaths in Catholic and Anglican residential schools for children of First Nation people. He uncovered genocide and was punished for his discoveries. He has since uncovered that many of the same things and worse are still going on there. This video explains “worse.”
So what is Pinkney exposing to deserve this treatment?
A mere search engine term of “water bills double” brings up a myriad of results from all across the country regarding the doubling of water bills in places as far apart as St. Louis, Morrison, OK, St. Bernard Parrish, LA, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Chicago, and many other cities and states.
A quick search of the terms “astronomical water bills” likewise reveals that many parts of the country do not need their water bills to double officially in order for them to be outrageously expensive. In fact, the reports surrounding many of the skyrocketing water bills in many of the cities such as Seattle and Chesterfield, VA are oddly familiar to the reports surrounding the mysteriously skyrocketing water bills in Dekalb County.
For instance, as Kelly Avellino writes for NBC12,
Angry Chesterfield homeowners are calling NBC12, after getting astronomical water bills.
Ed Brooks, a resident in the River Downs neighborhood, says the water bill for his home is typically about a hundred dollars a month. However, his bill this month was more than $1,100.
“I got a bad case of sticker shock when I opened it up and saw it was $1,100,” said Brooks.
Brooks is just one of a slew of neighbors in Chesterfield reporting skyrocketing water bills, right now. The River Downs neighborhood Facebook page shows one neighbor posting after another about historically high water bills.
“It is baffling,” said Anne Farrell, also of River Downs.
Farrell’s bill for August went up more than $170 dollars from the same time, the previous year. The bill shows that Farrell’s water usage allegedly doubled.
“I know we didn’t do anything differently. I know we didn’t have a leak. I know we didn’t have any circumstances that the bill would go up that much,” said Farrell.
Lauren Nelson, another resident, says her family cut back on water usage, nixing backyard water slides and only turning on the sprinklers periodically.
“Our bill last year was $123. This year… over $310,” said Nelson.
Yet, while the American people are being charged grossly high and even invented amounts for water, in California and across the country, Nestle and Arrowhead are using massive amounts water, virtually for free.
As Californians struggle with the extreme drought gripping the entire state and work to preserve the precious resource by implementing bans and restrictions regarding its use, a major food supplier has been taking water from a particularly parched part of the state and bottling it.
Since 2002, Nestle has had a deal with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians that allows the food giant to pump water from the Millard Canyon aquifer located on the tribe’s reservation, bottle it and sell it under the company’s Arrowhead and Pure Life water brands.
How much Nestle, the country’s largest bottled water company, paid the Morongo tribe for the rights to the water supply is not known, as the contract between the bottled water supplier and the tribe is not required to be disclosed.
The state has enacted severe restrictions regarding water use, aiming to conserve enough water for about 3.5 million people, or about 9 percent of the state’s population, but because the water plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation, local water agencies do not have any control over the water plant.
Nestle also doesn’t have to report how much water it takes from the water basin because of the plant’s location on the reservation. Many say this is a point of concern, especially since water is a limited resource in the state.
Ian James of The Desert Sun also reported on Nestle’s use of much-needed water supplies. He wrote,
The plant, located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation, has been drawing water from wells alongside a spring in Millard Canyon for more than a decade. But as California’s drought deepens, some people in the area question how much water the plant is bottling and whether it’s right to sell water for profit in a desert region where springs are rare and underground aquifers have been declining.
“Why is it possible to take water from a drought area, bottle it and sell it?” asked Linda Ivey, a Palm Desert real estate appraiser who said she wonders about the plant’s use of water every time she drives past it on Interstate 10.
“It’s hard to know how much is being taken,” Ivey said.
“We’ve got to protect what little water supply we have.”
Over the years, the Morongo tribe has clashed with one local water district over the bottling operation, and has tried to fend off a long-running attempt by state officials to revoke a license for a portion of the water rights. Those disputes, however, don’t seem to have put a dent in an operation that brings the Morongo undisclosed amounts of income through an agreement with the largest bottled water company in the United States.
The plant is operated by Nestle Waters North America Inc., which leases the property from the tribe and uses it to package Arrowhead spring water as well as purified water sold under the brand Nestle Pure Life.
The Desert Sun has repeatedly asked the company for a tour of the bottling plant since last year, but those requests have not been granted. The company and the Morongo tribe also did not respond to requests for information about the amounts of water bottled each year.
Until 2009, Nestle Waters submitted annual reports to a group of local water districts showing how much groundwater was being extracted from the spring in Millard Canyon. Reports compiled by the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency show that the amounts drawn from two wells in the canyon varied from a high of 1,366 acre-feet in 2002 to a low of 595 acre-feet in 2005. In 2009, Nestle Waters reported 757 acre-feet pumped from the wells during the previous year.
Even in Canada, Nestle is allowed to absorb the bulk of water resources in some locales for commercial purposes why the people who depend on those resources for drinking water are given the shaft. For instance, Wellington Water Watchers, an organization that was opposed to Nestle’s unfettered access to local drinking water supplies reported,
Despite no data on how drought or climate change will affect Guelph’s water supply in years to come, Nestlé Waters of Aberfoyle has filed for an unprecedented 10-year provincial permit to take up to 3.6 million litres of water per day from the Grand River watershed.
“In our Grand River watershed, we are much more dependent on groundwater for our source of drinking water than most other places in Ontario, maybe most other places in Canada, with the exception of Prince Edward Island,” Hueniken points out.
Guelph is 85 to 90 percent dependent on groundwater as the source of drinking water, Hueniken says, making this a local issue that is unique in Canada. “We could build a pipeline to the Great Lakes, but the quality of the water from a deep aquifer like ours, the Amabel, is so much better than surface water from the Great Lakes, that it just seems a shame to let Nestlé take this pure natural resource, bottle it and ship it outside of the watershed day after day.”
Stopping this life-threatening crime is going to take a huge public exposure campaign. It will take more than a few lone voices crying in the wilderness.
The Irish are not only waking up. They are protesting and refusing to pay. They see water as a human right.
In the absence of widespread awareness about the issue here in the United States, however, it might help to revisit the Enron scams in order to understand and jog the memories of the American people so that they can understand what may be happening here. Remember, Enron, while involved in many different scams, was also involved in the creation of a false shortage of electric power and subsequently raised rates under the pretense of stopping “brown outs” that Enron itself created. The results were that many victims ended up committing suicide, often because their businesses were destroyed as a result of the scams.
Water is also an actual physical entity, so the technique used to bilk people around it might be more difficult but it is certainly possible to do it.
In the US, the “Power Over Water” folks seemed to have taken a page from Enron in two ways. First, create the impression of a water crisis and then invent, invent, invent. It’s more sly than what happened with Bechtel in Bolivia where it was a mathematically visible issue of “rates” and Bechtel’s statements did not match up with either the truth or its other statements.
But in the US, people are being charged a fortune for water without changing the rates. The bills are total inventions. They are complete scams.
And where is the data on who and how many people are being skunked? It’s reading this article. You are that information! You are the evidence. And all the information you can gather is evidence needed to stop these criminals.
The reality is people are trapped in an enormous criminal scam by their own governments.
Bills can be 10 or 20 times higher than normal. The water board simply doesn’t answer the phone, but the bills keep coming and then the water is cut off. Those controlling water have set up a system in which there is no public notice of rate changes, there is no relation between water usage and charges, and for each isolated individual with no knowledge of how many people who are being affected or any way to reach others in the same boat, there is no recourse.
It’s Enron again – faked crisis followed by fake bills – only now more stealthily done than things were done in Bolivia, but still around a life or death resource: water.
People in every state need to investigate the water charges in their area. To be clear – they need to investigate the charges, not the rates which are posted. The bills people are receiving may have no correlation to the water they are using.
Smart meters can offer a means to make it appear that a certain amount of water was used even though it was not. Remember, Skilling’s darling and the bankers’ darling – digital information, can be easily rigged.
Americans are not supposed to know that drastically inflated water bills are being charged everywhere. Without that knowledge, they are alone in the scam. With it, they can see the whole country is being ripped off. Isolating people with their own crushing water bill – publicized rates unchanged – is just more case of slipping something past the “stupid Americans.” The reality, however, is that we are being lied to.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes continued his anti-people legal reasoning by denying a motion to reconsider his decision not to halt water shut-offs in Detroit.
Since January some 31,000 households have been subjected to a concerted policy of massive terminations of water services. Even though officials of the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) claim that most customers paid their designated arrears allowing a reconnection of service, there still remains an undetermined number of people who are living without water or have been forced to re-locate.
Earlier in June, a spokesperson for emergency manager Kevyn Orr told the Detroit Free Press that the termination of water services was an integral part of the City of Detroit’s restructuring. For weeks officials at the DWSD denied there was a problem until protests and a public outcry drew global attention to the conditions prevailing in the majority African American municipality.
In fact this policy of large-scale termination of water services was the subject of demonstrations throughout the summer. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition held weekly pickets and marches, known as Freedom Friday, outside the DWDS headquarters on Randolph street downtown, extending from June through late Aug.
The weekly marches gained nationwide support in that it drew participation from those across the southeast Michigan region as well as people coming into the city for conferences and solidarity work. In late July, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) held a national gathering at Wayne State University and took time out to hire a bus that traveled downtown to participate in the Freedom Friday protests.
These efforts peaked on July 18 when thousands rallied and marched across downtown in conjunction with the Netroots Nation Conference which convened at Cobo Center that same week. Members of the National Nurses United (NNU), who were in town for the Netroots summit, assisted in the mobilization of the conference delegates where the gathering of bloggers and various types of social media activists closed down the meeting in order to join the struggle for water and against emergency management in the streets.
Earlier on July 15, an objections hearing to the so-called “plan of adjustment” was held in federal bankruptcy court where over 50 people out of over 600 objectors, representing retirees, homeowners, city workers and community residents, spoke out in opposition to the bankers’ plan to further exploit and oppress the people of Detroit. Kris Hamel, representing the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, condemned the emergency manager Kevyn Orr and the federal courts for allowing thousands of households to be subjected to the shutoffs when financial institutions, which took $537 million out of the DWSD system through interest rates swaps that were terminated in 2012, remained unscathed by the court.
Following the week of objections in the federal court and mass demonstrations in the streets that drew international press coverage as well as acts of solidarity, the DWSD officials under the direction of the emergency manager, declared a 15-day moratorium on shut-offs. This moratorium was extended for additional period as a class-action lawsuit was filed on July 21 seeking relief on behalf of victims of the shutoffs along with four community organizations: the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, the People’s Water Board (PWB), Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) and the local chapter of the National Action Network (NAN).
Federal Judge Rhodes Favors Banks, Dictatorial Rulers Against the People’s Interest
This motion for reconsideration was submitted in response to the dismissal of the class-action lawsuit that was filed in July aimed at halting water shut-offs and imposing a water affordability plan in Detroit. What emerged from the finding of a people’s legal team working on behalf of the victims of the shutoffs and the four concerned organizations was that the DWSD system was broken as result of the usurious and predatory lending policies of four major financial institutions: Loop Financial, Chase Bank, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley.
With the abandonment of thousands of former industrial, commercial and residential structures in Detroit, water pipes were broken through decay, scrap metal collectors who act as scavengers stripping vacant structures as well as direct sabotage. Due to the lack of resources and poor management, water main leaks and broken pipes results in untold amounts of waste in the system. Nonetheless, it is the people of Detroit who have been subjected to paying the costs of this dysfunctional system.
Judge Rhodes claimed again that he lacked authority to order a halt to the termination of services yet even if he did the jurist said that there was no legal right within United States law to affordable water. Such a statement speaks volume on the actual character of modern-day capitalist society.
In an article on the most recent ruling published by the Metro Times on Nov. 21, it says that “In the 24-page supplemental opinion, Rhodes considered both sides of the argument, determining that even if he found his court had the authority to weigh in on the issue, he still would’ve denied the request, saying ‘there is no constitutional or fundamental right either to affordable water service or to an affordable payment plan for account arrearages.’”
Strangely enough, the ruling denying the reconsideration of his earlier decision, the judge acknowledges that Mayor Mike Duggan’s putative “10-point plan”, where payment arrangements could be made on a revised and purportedly more affordable basis, was insufficient in its approach to solving the problem.
This same Metro Times report quoted the ruling saying that “Because the poverty rate in the City is about 40%, this is likely to be a large group. To address this need, the 10 Point Plan relies on a patchwork combination of charity and public funds. Unfortunately however, there has been no analysis of whether the available resources will be sufficient to address this need over the long term. Section 904 of the bankruptcy code forecloses to the Court the issues of whether and how to address this important and urgent need. Still, the Court urges the City to examine the issue with the sense of urgency that it deserves.”
Millions for Consultants, Yet No Water for the People
This decision was handed down amid more controversy surrounding the nearly $200 million in consultancy fees billed by the political engineers of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Jones Day Law Firm, Orr’s former employer, has billed the city over $52 million in legal fees.
By November, $177 million in such consultancy fees had been sent to the City of Detroit. Costs are continuing to rise as the pro-bankers “plan of adjustment” is being jeopardized even prior to the full exit from bankruptcy.
Rhodes has ordered mediation sessions surrounding the high cost of the unnecessary bankruptcy proceedings which are scheduled for Dec. 3-4. Meanwhile, as the cold weather creates harsh conditions for Detroit residents, water shutoffs are continuing along with tax foreclosure notices to thousands of households further threatening the majority African American and working class population with basic survival.
Even if the City of Detroit is allowed to exit bankruptcy by the end of the year, austerity and increasing impoverishment of the people will continue. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition is preparing for the next phase of the struggle aimed at fighting the budget and service cuts that will continue to be imposed on the people.