A federal court in Michigan has ordered local officials managing the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to devise a plan within 60 days to address non-compliance with water quality regulations and the Clean Water Act (CW A) without regard to local ordinances and contracts with unions and other parties. United States v. City of Detroit, No. 77-71100 (E.D. Mich. 9/9/11). The violations, which the city does not dispute, involve the city’s wastewater treatment plant and numerous violations of its NP DES permit limits for suspended solids and effluent.

The court denied the city’s request to dismiss the case and ordered the city and the Board of Water Commissioners to develop a “workable solution” to correct “serious and recurrent violations of the Clean Water Act,” or “this Court will directly order a more intrusive remedy.” The city argued that it had been “constrained” in taking steps to correct the problems because it is bound by its charter and ordinances and existing contracts.  

EP A sued the city in 1977, alleging numerous CW A violations at its wastewater treatment plant, which provides wastewater collection, treatment and disposal services for Detroit and 76 suburban communities. The city also provides water service to 4 million people in Detroit and neighboring communities in southeast Michigan. EP A alleged that the water department was understaffed, undertrained and lacked required supplies and equipment. In 2000, a court-appointed committee’s report on the wastewater treatment plant’s ongoing noncompliance found significant CW A violations plus “technical difficulties” with equipment as well as ineffective capital improvements, finance, purchasing, materials management, and human resource programs.