Impassioned activists are building a vigorous campaign to force Detroit elected officials to make water service affordable for all, to stop the water shut-offs, restore service where it has been cut-off and to prevent a public health crisis by implementing an updated income-based water affordability plan.
The group, which includes Food & Water Watch, has been working and steadily growing since the Detroit City Council approved an income-based water affordability plan via a local resolution in 2006. Unfortunately, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) failed to implement the program and has continued to raise rates annually, resulting in tens of thousands of residents without water service.
Now, we’re working with Council Member Mary Sheffield (District 5) and our allies in the People’s Water Board Coalition to pass an income-based water affordability ordinance, which would legally require the DWSD to implement a real solution to keep water flowing from the taps of Detroiters.
Since the first mass shut-off in 2004, Detroit community members have been working to fight water bill rate increases and prevent shutoffs. Neighborhoods that have faced lack of water face constant trauma. Valerie Blakely, a resident of the Northend of Detroit, was completely shut off from water in 2014. The very same year we saw our first huge success when we partnered with our allies at Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Blue Planet Project and the Peoples Water Board Coalition to submit a report to the United Nation’s (UN) Office of the High Commissioner. Two UN experts responded to the report and declared the large scale water shut-offs and unaffordable water bills as violations of the human right to water. However, Valerie and her family saw no relief to their situation. In an interview, she told us that they are still in crisis.
She said, “Thousands are in jeopardy of losing access to water, adding to the thousands that already don’t have water. Living without water is very stressful and it causes so much shame. The shame and secrecy that children go through when they have to go to school without a bath, brushing their teeth, and wearing dirty clothes is absolutely unacceptable. If the teacher finds out that you don’t have water in your home they have to report it to Child Protective Services and the children will be removed from the home. People don’t just bounce back from that kind of trauma. My community still hasn’t healed. Direct action is needed now!”
The UN’s call for Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department to provide urgent measures, including implementing an income-based water affordability plan, to ensure access to essential water gave a bold pretense, but was not enforced. The aggressive water shut-offs in Detroit and the thousands of other cities across the United states with limited access to water, unaffordable water, or contaminated water, is entirely avoidable. There is no reason people should be spending more than 2.5-3% of their monthly income to provide their families with safe water.
This year, water advocates are proclaiming: enough is enough. A large group of progressive activists, environmental champions and residents have committed to attending Detroit City Council meetings every Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. until legislation for an income-based water affordability plan ordinance is drafted, introduced and passed. Detroit Council Member Mary Sheffield, a native Detroiter, has said she will draft and introduce the ordinance. When she officially announces, it will be a good first step towards ensuring safe, affordable water service for all.
If you live in Detroit and want to get involved, join us every Tuesday to demand affordable water from the Detroit City Council.