Lots of things in Detroit are changing. Case in point: the drainage charges that residents are going to start seeing this coming fall from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). The reasoning for it goes something like this: residents have things like roofs and driveways that don’t absorb stormwater that runs off into DWSD infrastructure, and they clean it up, and discharge it back into I’m assuming the Detroit River or Lake Huron. Someone needs to pay for it, and since the 1970s, DWSD has had the legal authority to charge for this, but just opted not to, because, well, life is hard.
So now that we have a more functional water department, we have to cover more of our operating costs, we’ll begin seeing drainage fees on our bills. And there’s a few problems with how it’s being rolled out. The first is what DWSD thinks I’m using. The picture below is from DWSD’s parcel viewer, which is actually really neat. You can go there and see how much of your lot DWSD thinks is impervious, meaning, stormwater won’t just go into either dirt or plants and percolate back through the aquifer.
This is my house. In this, they count pretty much all of my roof (they missed some in the back, but made up for it by extending the front a bit) on both my house and my garage. The problem with this is that any surface that’s pitched towards my back yard doesn’t drain into DWSD infrastructure. The downspouts were disconnected from the below ground lines years ago, as I’ve seen throughout most of Detroit. The backside of the garage roof, that drains entirely into the street. The other side of the garage drains into the yard. The backside of the roof on the house, also drains into the yard, and the front side of the house, only half drains onto the sidewalk that then washes down the sidewalk, and then into the berm. So, actually very little of the impervious surface actually drains into DWSD infrastructure. At best, probably only about 25% of it does.
But let’s leave that alone for a minute. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that all of it does, and we’ll pursue this to its bizarre, yet logical conclusion, and say all of my impervious surfaces are generating lots of stormwater runoff for DWSD, and that it’s going right into their infrastructure. I took the picture below right in front of my house last week.
The storm drains don’t, well, drain. And they haven’t for some decades. I’ve logged every single faulty storm drain in Indian Village many, many times, both on paper and on the City’s app, Improve Detroit, and the process goes something like this: a crew comes out from DWSD in a Vactor truck (one of those giant sucker trucks), and a crew goes through the motions of performing maintenance, and it drains a bit better for a while. But whatever the underlying issue is reasserts itself, and it begins backing up. I know that the City also just bought a fleet of street sweepers, and that will also help with maintenance. But the thing is, in this instance, is that I don’t think that this is a maintenance issue. Below is another picture of the same drain from the 1970s, found in a desk drawer of my house with the previous owners pretending that they were at the Model Boat Basin on Belle Isle.
This would be quaint for the fact that it’s a City street, and not a park.
I don’t mind paying for what I use in terms of stormwater runoff, but the fact of the matter is this: until DWSD fixes both how they bill residents for what they’re using, and the infrastructure that they’re relying on, this isn’t a drainage charge, it’s a paved property tax. Because I’m actually not paying for drainage, on the basis of a formula that DWSD came up with solely to cover their own financial needs, I’m paying per square foot of how much impervious surface regardless of if it drains into their drainage system. It’s not a fee, it’s a tax.
I’ll close with this: if I have this wrong, please educate me. I’m willing to post any follow up on this that illuminates the situation. But between my own experiences and what I’m looking at on the parcel viewer, the situation isn’t right, and DWSD need to recalibrate their billing and fix their infrastructure. Until then, I’m of the opinion that it’s a paved property tax.