High tech water safety system goes unused in metro Detroit

The crisis in Flint is forcing cities across America to take a closer look at their own water systems - and some don't like what they see.

In metro Detroit our water was once kept safe by high-tech sensors, but not anymore.

It is something Detroit area residents had but may have not realized it. But because local communities didn't want to ask customers to pay an extra .25 cents a year, a warning system that could detect anything wrong with our water is no longer being used.

"We put it in because we found out there was 800 chemical spills over a period of 14 years," said Doug Murtz. "We were never told of them."

Fearful of what was being dumped in our Detroit area drinking water, Murtz, the head of the former Macomb County Water Quality board, pushed for a high tech water warning system that was put in place back in 2006.

About 14 water filtration stations from Port Huron to Monroe had the capability of detecting everything from a chemical leak to an oil spill as it happened.

Murtz helped to secure the $3.2 million in federal funds to finance the monitoring network, but the money eventually ran out.

And a few years ago intake stations like the Mount Clemens water plant stopped using it..

"It was working when I first started, then they just stopped," said a worker. "The state didn't want to pay for it anymore."

"What happened in Flint made me wake up and come out of the closet," said Murtz. "We need to keep this system in place."

The state wouldn't foot the bill to maintain the advanced monitoring system - and when local communities were given the option. Many decided not to pass the cost down to the customer.

FOX 2: "How much would it cost?"

"In the past about 25 cents a customer," Murtz said "We get 7 to10 percent raises every year in our drinking water. It would be peanuts. Do you think the people in Flint would pay that much now for what's going on."

Right now only five cities, Detroit, Monroe, Algonac, Marine City and Marysville offer a detection system, but at a very low level.

Many communities including the Great Lakes Water Authority, which includes the city of Detroit, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties and the state claims it couldn't justify the cost. Because the sophisticated equipment was not accurate.

The authority's Amanda Abukhader issued this statement which in part reads:

"While the warning system is an added benefit, GLWA still ensures that all water is tested throughout the treatment process. We conduct testing and monitoring to ensure that we are able to meet our responsibility on an ongoing basis so the communities we serve are never without quality water."

Flint was never on the water warning system, but Murtz claims if it was, problems with the drinking water may have been detected..
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"We just need this thing put back in," he said. "We need to protect 4 million people, we don't need something bad to happen."

The GLWA says that the basic water warning system is up and running but cities would also have to pay for maintenance and capital improvement.


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