Excerpts from Prof. Murthy’s paper below courtesy of Tom Stephens:
“The widespread and aggressive water shutoffs in Detroit have highlighted the critical need to reassess our laws and policies regarding affordable access to water for drinking, sanitation, and hygiene.”
“…[N]ational legislation needs to be enacted that ensures access to safe and affordable water for drinking, hygiene, and sanitation for all Americans. The massive water shutoffs in Detroit have revealed a critical gap in existing legal and policy frameworks. Although there are national programs to help low-income individuals access basic needs such as food, shelter, and medical care, as well as programs to assist with paying energy and telephone utility bills, no similar national program exists for household water.18 With water rates rising across the United States, Detroit is the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Ensuring that everyone has affordable access to water for drinking, sanitation, and hygiene makes moral and economic sense.
“Over the past decade, water rates in Detroit have climbed nearly 120 percent.”
“Detroit has been experiencing an enormous water crisis. Since 2013, DWSD has terminated water service to over 50,000 Detroit residents, targeting those households whose payments were sixty days late or who had at least $150 in arrears. The shutoff campaign became especially aggressive in 2014 as DWSD cut off water to as many as 3,000 households per week. The city initially defended its widespread disconnection drive on the grounds that it was effective in improving payment rates. However, of the 33,000 shutoffs that took place in 2014, approximately 15,000 households remained without water. By February 2015, more than forty-three percent of Detroit homes were at risk of termination because their payments were at least sixty days late. After a winter hiatus, shutoffs resumed. DWSD indicated in the spring of 2015 that it was planning to terminate water service to 28,000 additional households. As this article was going to press in the spring of 2016, DWSD had begun spring shutoffs again. During the first week of May, over 1,860 households had their water service discontinued, but eighty-five percent had it restored within a day; however, another approximately 20,000 households remained at risk after defaulting on payment plans. The city has also been prosecuting residents who have illegally reconnected their water, which is a felony under Michigan law.”
“This analysis suggests that the widespread household shutoffs that have occurred since 2013 are directly tied to Detroit’s efforts to create the GLWA and successfully emerge from bankruptcy. The neighboring counties were reluctant to enter into the GLWA because they were afraid of being saddled with Detroit’s unpaid water bills. DWSD wanted to signal to bondholders that it was getting its books in order, which is also why it pushed the City Council to approve water rate increases. In retrospect, the very public way in which DWSD terminated water to thousands of households was a terrible public relations move because it brought national and international condemnation. Yet, at the time, DWSD, which was under the control of the Emergency Manager, was trying to show neighboring counties and the bond market that it was serious about enforcing its collection policies.”
“A reliable source of water has been essential to all civilizations throughout history, including in the founding of the United States.”
“The recent economic water crisis in a water-rich area like Detroit and the drought in California highlight an often-overlooked fact: the founding and success of the United States has been intimately tied to water. In other words, water is “so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.”