You can’t wash your hands if your water has been shut off. Detroiters who have been fighting for a moratorium on water shutoffs for years finally received good news when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to stop shutoffs and directed the City of Detroit to reconnect water service for all residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While over 350 US cities and states have pledged to stop new shutoffs nationwide, far fewer have committed to restoring water service. But announcing that water restorations are available does not mean the public health crisis has been fixed. Thousands of affected residents in Detroit and across the country need emergency water today.
The promise of water shutoffs has always been that you will get your water back on when you pay your bill. But when days turn into months and then years without water service, it’s not so simple.
Long-term shutoffs cause water quality problems in household plumbing. Water sitting for long periods in pipes and hot water tanks grows bacteria. Pipes freeze, pipes break, pipes fail. Stagnant water and air in unused plumbing corrode the pipe surfaces, allowing lead and other metals to dissolve and flake into the water. Lead pipe surfaces will leach lead until regular water use allows corrosion control treatment to start working again. Each house faces different risks: different materials, ages, conditions and duration of shutoff.
Every home with an extended shutoff is like its own Flint water crisis waiting to happen.