Detroit, MI (December 8, 2020) — The People’s Water Board Coalition applauds Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) for following the long-standing recommendations of water advocates, public health experts, and impacted residents to end the practice of DWSD water shutoffs. The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Detroiters, in particular, has made it abundantly clear that to protect public health DWSD cannot deny residential water service to the City’s residents.
Two decades of disconnected water service to Detroit residents unable to afford the cost of exponential rate increases and high sewage bills have resulted in many disproportionate health and quality of life consequences. Mayor Duggan’s announcement of the steps to be taken today by the City of Detroit will help alleviate the deadly toll that the public health crisis has taken on our communities.
“Universal access to safe drinking water is a matter of life and death. By eliminating water shutoffs through 2022 is a step in the right direction. In the short-term, Detroit’s leaders are taking the necessary and humane approach to providing drinking water to everyone, regardless of income,” stated Sylvia Orduño, an organizer with Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the People’s Water Board Coalition.
However, this is not the end of the problem. “We appreciate the Mayor’s stated commitment to addressing the long-term problems with water affordability in Detroit,” continued Orduño. “But we need affordable water rates based on residents’ ability to pay their water bills. The Water Rate Assistance Program isn’t an affordability program. Federal water assistance is welcome, but it is not an affordability program and doesn’t address the underlying problem of unaffordable water rates.”
“There are still many Detroit residents who are living under the radar because they are afraid,” said Rosyln Walker, a People’s Water Board Coalition canvassing coordinator. “They do not have running water or have turned on water themselves because they still can’t afford to pay the high bills.”
Since the turn of the century the People’s Water Board Coalition and our partners have fought to end the practice of water shut offs and institute income-based affordability measures. Last spring when Governor Whitmer acknowledged advocates’ concerns and put Executive Orders 2020-28 and 2020-144 in place to mandate water restoration during the pandemic, People’s Water Board Coalition was pleased with Detroit leadership to assist residents. Although the Michigan Supreme Court acted on partisan lines and invalidated the Governor’s authority to guarantee running water during a pandemic, Mayor Duggan stepped in to ensure that Detroiters have water service to wash their hands as the pandemic continues.
The reporting requirements put in place by the Governor’s executive order last spring show that the water affordability and shut off crisis is not just a Detroit problem. Thousands of Michiganders outside of Detroit are facing drowning in unaffordable water bills and face the threat of water shut offs. Detroiters will be protected by the action that Mayor Duggan is taking today, but too many Michiganders are vulnerable to water shut offs. The People’s Water Board Coalition urges lawmakers in Lansing to immediately pass Senate Bill 241 as a bipartisan issue, which will ensure statewide access to safe running water while the pandemic continues.
“The risk of water shut offs and life without running water isn’t a partisan issue,” continued Orduño. “Tragically, Republicans and Democrats in the Michigan legislature have hundreds of thousands of constituents who risk losing access to running water.”
The People’s Water Board Coalition believes that all people have a human right to clean, accessible, and affordable water and sanitation. We are a coalition of three dozen grassroots groups, NGO’s, faith-based, community-based, and labor organizations who have come together to advocate against water insecurity alongside impacted residents. Nearly 200,000 residents in Detroit have experienced water shutoffs since 2002 when community organizers began working on a water affordability plan and fighting for the human rights to water and sanitation. The People’s Water Board formed in 2009 amidst a deepening crisis of water access and affordability.