Following the establishment of the City of Detroit in 1701, the supply of drinking water in Detroit and its surroundings evolved from individuals collecting water daily from the river in leather buckets, to horse-driven pumps distributing river water to homes into a small network of hollowed-out wooden logs. From wooden logs to gigantic stream-driven equipment pumping thousands of gallons of raw river water, to more efficient electric pumps supplying millions of gallons of treated water for distribution through a complex network of pipes to millions of people who reside in Southeast Michigan.
From its beginnings as little more than an afterthought, sewage disposal has undergone a similarly circuitous evolution. Sewers have evolved from simple open ditches that channeled raw waste by gravity into the nearest body of water, to covered streams, to huge pipes directing flows of waste matter to technologically-advanced facilities that clean and disinfect the effluent before it’s discharged into the Detroit River.
Today, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is the third largest provider of high-quality drinking water and wastewater treatment services in the United States. It has been a most incredible journey.
On February 14, 1853, the Michigan Legislature in Lansing created the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners, a group of five men entrusted with directing the operation of Detroit’s Water Department.
By federal court order issued February 2011, the Board of Water Commissioners is made up of seven members who oversee DWSD operations, management and major contracts, and set rates for water and sewer services. The Board includes four members from the City of Detroit, and one each nominated by the Wayne County Executive, the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner and the Macomb Public Works Commissioner with confirmation by the Mayor of Detroit. All members must have at least seven years of experience in a regulated industry. Commissioners receive $10,000 in compensation and an additional $250 per meeting, not to exceed $20,000 per year in total.
Today, due to bankruptcy proceedings, there is discussion regarding selling the water works to some of the suburban counties surrounding Detroit (Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne).