Did Detroit just destroy its entire water department?

80 percent of the city's water department could be cut.

There seems to be a double narrative going on in Detroit. On the one hand there's the narrative of Detroit's comeback, it's creative resurgence (urban gardens! tech startups! downtown redevelopment!). Then we read stories like this and wonder if there will be any city left to support its "rebirth":

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department could slash more than 80 percent of its staff over the next five years in a drastic overhaul to cut costs and reduce customers' rate increases.

That's from The Detroit News, who reported today that over those five years the number of employees in the department will drop from 1,978 to 374. And 361 employees will be outsourced to other departments. It doesn't take a math guru to figure out that this would be a huge cut by the city.

Still, it's just a proposal, with some calling for a second opinion, but if it is successfully implemented city officials say it would save the city $139 million each year. It will, however, cost $211 million over five years to implement the cuts and retrain the remaining workers. (They'll be doing the work of, what, five workers?!)

"These changes will not come without sacrifice," Mayor David Bing said in a press conference. "However these are the type of cost savings measures that are essential to moving our city forward to long-term financial stability."

Imagine how much could be saved if they got rid of every city department! Exactly. That wouldn't make sense. And that's what the Union representative is, of course, saying: you can't just make cuts like this and expect there to be quality city services. Again, The Detroit News:

"What they are trying to do is cause the water department to fail," said John Riehl, president of AFSCME Local 207, which represents about 960 department staffers. "There's no way in the world it is going to be able to operate.

"They don't have enough people now. It's a risk to the public."

And from Councilman Kwame Kenyatta: "I guess they are going to have robots running the water department." I bet Detroiters wish that were the case. Only 99 jobs were lost to technology upgrades.

If you live in Detroit it might be time to invest in a high quality water filter.

Photo: Flickr/Timmy Caldwell

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com