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Whitmer Urged to Ensure Sanitation for All

Safe, clean tap water is out of reach for thousands of Detroit residents. (AdobeStock)
Safe, clean tap water is out of reach for thousands of Detroit residents. (AdobeStock)
March 23, 2020

DETROIT -- Hand washing is an important practice to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but it's a measure that thousands of Michiganders are unable to do in their own homes.

Despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's March 9 call for restoration of water and sanitation services for 9,500 disconnected Detroit homes, community leaders say many people still lack water and sewer service.

Detroit resident Nicole Hill has experienced shutoffs several times in recent years, and says limited access to drinking water is impacting her family's health as it makes eating adequately difficult.

"We need clean, accessible, affordable water and sanitation services restored immediately for all low-income residents," she stresses. "And we need the local and state government to do it now! No one should ever have to suffer living without water due to being poor."

Hill adds that low-income residents without water service are struggling to find bottled water due to the panic buying at retail stores.

Community groups are imploring the governor to set up public water stations in the city where residents can pick up gallon jugs of water, as well as cleaning supplies to properly sanitize their homes.

As a member of the People's Water Board Coalition, retired physician Dr. Paul von Oeyen contends the spread of COVID-19 is exacerbating disease threats.

"Everyone must be connected to safe, clean water and sanitation services or else the tsunami tidal wave of this crisis cannot be contained in Detroit," he states. "Instead it will rush right through like a sieve to the detriment of everyone in Michigan."

Hill adds that more also needs to be done to inform residents about how to get water restored and protect themselves from the virus.

"Many residents still don't know," she states. "We need information in non-digital ways such as billboards, bus signs, radio, posters to put up in grocery stores and laundry mats and mailings should go out to every single resident."

Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, says the problems in Detroit are a symptom of the much larger issue of the lack of affordable, clean water for all Michiganders.

"Our organization is adamant about the need for public water to be accessible to all of the public," she states. "It's so frustrating. We should have been able to do it long before this crisis hit so that this wouldn't be happening to people."

Advocates are calling on state leaders to enact a low-income based water affordability program and to ban all future water shutoffs on vulnerable populations.

The Detroit People's Water Board is collecting donated water and supplies for residents. Learn more online at peopleswaterboard.org.

Disclosure: Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation contributes to our fund for reporting. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI