Water affordability and public health

Detroit Water March

Across the city of Detroit, thousands of low-residents are shut off regularly from water services by the Department of Water and Sewerage (DWSD). This is not a recent problem but one that has occurred for at least the past two decades and worsened in recent years.

In March 2014, DWSD began a plan to shut off water to residential customers whose bills were $150 or more and two months behind. Commercial,  non-profit, institutional and government customers were not targeted. In the years since this draconian practice has resulted in nearly 150,000 residents experiencing their water shutoffs. The matter received international attention in October 2014 when United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs were invited by communities groups to meet with residents about the large scale shutoffs on poor, low-income residents and impacts on health and home foreclosures from rolled over water bills.

Household health impacts and the humanitarian crisis that unfolds when poor people are forced to live without water has been told in many press reports and documentaries. (A simple google search on Detroit water shutoffs and the United Nations will yield many of them.) What is most significant today are the Detroit public health consequences when thousands of residents are forced to live without running water.

The lack of clean drinking water access has led to low-income households struggling with basic sanitation (including toilet flushing and waste management), safe food preparation and cooking, dehydration and personal hygiene. Unable to afford DWSD bills, affected residents cannot properly prepare for work and school and must find ways to attend to their basic needs with bottled water, with neighbors water hoses, through rain barrels or in other settings away from home.

These problems with water insecurity are not theirs alone. These matters rise to human rights violations are contributing to major humanitarian and public health crises in Detroit that must be addressed immediately!

We support Detroit City Councilmember Pro Tem Mary Sheffield’s effort to seek a moratorium on water shutoffs to address public health concerns. Further, we call upon Governor Gretchen Whitmer to respond to the ACLU’s petition for a moratorium on Detroit water shutoffs and declare them a public health emergency. Finally, we call upon the Michigan legislature to establish a statewide water affordability program based on the ability of low-income households’ ability to pay.

These measures will improve and protect public health, strengthen municipal water systems, stabilize neighborhoods and housing markets, and ensure that Michigan residents have the clean affordable drinking water and wastewater services that are needed for life.

Be the first to comment on "Water affordability and public health"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.