UPDATED: Flowing water at an abandoned building in Detroit could point to larger problems for DWSD

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SCREENGRAB FROM WJBK-TV REPORT
  • Screengrab from WJBK-TV report
Updated at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, June 8:

A DWSD spokesman says there is no active account at the property and service was turned off in 2015. He says a separate line to the building was not shut and that someone may have tampered with pipes or stolen a meter, causing a break that led to gushing water and keeping DWSD from receiving an alert of unusual meter activity.

DWSD is in the process of creating a fraud team with additional investigators that will pursue criminal action in cases of tampering.

Originally posted at 3:38 p.m. on Wednesday, June 7:

Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department says it has performed an emergency water shutoff at a vacant building on Detroit's northwest side, where water was likely gushing for months.

The streaming water first came to the attention of a Detroit man back in March, who was taking photos around the site at Fenkell Avenue and Log Cabin Street when he heard the sound of water pouring from what turned out to be a valve in the building's basement. Mark Heath told WJBK-TV he alerted DWSD of the issue then, but it wasn't until this week, after the news outlet aired a report on the problem, that something was done. A DWSD spokesman says the department never received a complaint.

The alleged inaction comes as the agency threatens thousands of Detroiters who are behind on their bills with water shutoffs. And, if an investigation by DWSD determines the building owner wasn't paying their bills but had not faced a shutoff, the case could a bolster the argument that the department is not prioritizing delinquent commercial properties over residents like it has promised. An investigation by the Detroit News last August found Detroit’s water shutoff campaign was focused on residents, with homes at the time accounting for about half of delinquent bills — but nearly all of the shutoffs.

DWSD spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh says he doubts the owner wasn't paying their bills, because he says it's rare that delinquent customers can avoid shutoff. He points to other possible explanations, saying that, even though the building does not appear to be in use, someone could have illegally turned on the water. The owner could also have been current on their bill, paying a base minimum until a possible break in plumbing occurred. Or, Peckinpaugh says, the building owner could be one of the commercial customers the department is pursuing for collections. Commercial property owners, according to Peckinpaugh, are often not shut off immediately because they may house tenants that DWSD won't punish for an owner's failure to pay. In those cases, the agency pursues civil action against the building owner.

Regardless of the details surrounding this particular case, water flowing at vacant sites across the city represents money down the drain, either for DWSD or a bill payer. As Heath, the man who found the running water, told WJBK: "People right now are struggling to pay bills, and that fresh water is coming out. Somebody's paying for it."

Although Peckinpaugh tried to minimize this as a problem for the agency, calling it "rare," a local real estate agent Metro Times spoke with says he sees water flowing in an empty building at least once a month.

If you encounter a running water issue in Detroit, DWSD asks that you report it using the Improve Detroit app or by calling their 24-hour line at 313.267.8000.

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