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Report Renews Calls for Solutions to Detroit's Water Woes

Detroit was recently ranked ninth nationally for high numbers of water shutoffs. (Bryan Debus/Flickr)
Detroit was recently ranked ninth nationally for high numbers of water shutoffs. (Bryan Debus/Flickr)
January 21, 2019

DETROIT – New research is intensifying calls to stop water shutoffs in Detroit, and for the city to adopt a sensible water affordability plan.

A 100-page report released by faith leaders and academics suggests the aging water and sewer infrastructure, increasing bills, shutoffs and service interruptions experienced in Detroit could possibly play out in other Michigan communities, and across the country.

Jennifer Fassbender, a board member with Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, contends it's simply immoral for people to live without water.

"It is terrifying to think that we are not the only city contending with this,” she states. “But it is most definitely people who are the poorest people who are not able to access clean, affordable water, which we can't survive without."

Detroit was recently ranked ninth nationally for water shutoffs, with more than 100,000 over the past four years.

Besides a moratorium on water shutoffs, the report also recommends a water affordability plan, and using an income-based rate structure, as well as state and federal support for measures to guarantee water access, quality and oversight.

The report was released by the group Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES).

A University of Michigan study revealed Detroit residents pay 10 percent of their incomes on water each month, much higher than the 4.5 percent figure that the Environmental Protection Agency deems "unaffordable."

And Fassbender says it's too much for families struggling to get by.

"People in Detroit, while we're surrounded by 20 percent of the globe's fresh water, have some of the highest water bills in the country,” she points out. “So, our hope is that our new governor will hear the cries of the community and force the city to turn the water back on."

Fassbender notes questions have also been raised about the impact of the water system lease as part of Detroit's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

The research suggests the $50 million the Great Lakes Water Authority pays the city to run the water system isn't an accurate reflection of the system's value.

"Great Lakes Water Authority should be paying something like two-thirds more than they have been in this lease agreement.” Fassbender stresses. “So, this company is not even contributing anywhere near what they should to the people, the city, the system itself."

A Great Lakes Water Authority representative has told reporters the lease negotiations were extremely complex, and says there's no definitive evidence that the lease payment is artificially low.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI