Detroit Cuts Off Water To Poor People BUT Not Delinquent Businesses!

image supplied by Voice of Detroit
Image supplied by Voice of Detroit/Diane Bukowski



We cannot live without water.

The human body is comprised of 65% water.

“You can live 3 minutes without air, though we don’t recommend trying. In a harsh environment – it’s snowing, say – you have 3 hours to survive without shelter. After 3 days, you need water or you’ll perish. You can make it 3 weeks without food, though we promise you that won’t be fun.”

In the city of Detroit, the Emergency Manager has ordered that all residential accounts owing more than $150.00 be placed on immediate cutoff. What this means is that, at a rate of 1,500 – 3,000 customers per week will be losing water service to their homes. The total number of delinquent accounts is staggering – 150,806 out of a total 323,900 accounts were in a delinquent status as of March 6, 2014.

Business customers are not getting their water shut off

But what of the business customers who also owe vast amounts and are not being held accountable? They owe an average of three times as much collectively, but they get to keep their water services. Water Department officials claim that they are also shutting off business customers, but there is no evidence of this happening.

Charity Mahouna Hicks/Facebook Photo
Charity Mahouna Hicks/Facebook Photo

In residential neighborhoods, homeowners and renters are claiming that they have received no notice of the pending shut-off. Resident Charity Hicks, in an interview with the Voice of Detroit, stated:

“There was a contractor on the block shutting off the whole block. They were no-knock, no-notice shut-offs of homes including those where pregnant women and children live. After they shut mine off, I went two houses over to ask the man if he could wait until the family could gather some water together for their immediate needs. They were coming early in the morning, between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and people had no time to brush their teeth or wash up. He told me he doesn’t have to give notice to the homes, and that he was just doing his job.”

Russ Bellant, another Detroit resident, said that Homwich employees were also performing shut-offs in his east side neighborhood without prior notification of residents. According to the minutes of the Detroit Water Board, Homwich Wrecking was issued a contract worth $5.6 million April 24, 2014. The “Water Shut-Off/Turn-On Project,” Contract No. DWS-894 extends over a 730 day period and gives Homwich the authority to act on the board’s behalf to facilitate the turn-offs.

Maude Barlow is a voice for the people on this matter

Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians (and chair of Food and Water Watch), visited Detroit recently and was appalled by what she found there. In an article published in the Voice of Detroit May 27, 2014, she pondered:

“People are given no warning and no time to fill buckets, sinks and tubs. Sick people are left without running water and running toilets. People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook. Is this a small number of victims? No. The water department has decreed that it will turn the water off to all 120,000 residences that owe it money by the end of the summer although it has made no such threat to the many corporations and institutions that are in arrears on their bills as well. How did it come to this?”

Barlow also mentioned that this is not a new problem, as she has been addressing the unfair practice of residential service shut-offs for many years. While traveling in the Upper Peninsula in early 2012, she mentioned in an interview on Jan. 24, 2012:

“90,000 people in Detroit Michigan cannot afford to pay for water and have had that service cut off. A basic right, inaccessible due to the high cost.”

Photo courtesy of Maude Barlow/The Council of Canadians
Photo courtesy of Maude Barlow/The Council of Canadians

Barlow mentioned in a recent op-ed that the Detroit water system problem of delinquency was orchestrated.

“The burden of paying for the water and sewer services landed squarely on those who stayed, mostly poor African Americans. Rates rose 119% in a decade in a city with record high unemployment and a 40% poverty rate.”

“To make matters worse, as a cost cutting measure, the water department stopped sending bills, expecting residents to just figure out their own bills. It then installed ‘smart metres’ that read backwards and many families were hit with bills in the thousands of dollars. Many of these bills were from former tenants, and many included water bills from near by abandoned houses but that didn’t matter to the authorities.”


Depraved indifference from Michigan government

When you deprive humans of the single most important requirement for survival, you are depriving them of the right to life. The Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr and in turn, Governor Snyder, who condones this action, are acting in a reckless manner that is endangering life. Their depraved indifference to the plight of our Detroit residents is inexcusable.

“It is important to acknowledge the class and race dimension of this assault. There have been no stories on the cut offs in the mainstream US media. One cannot imagine that fact if the people losing their water were middle class white people. But the feeling is that Detroit is a lost cause and the people there deserve what they are getting.”

Without coverage in the mainstream media, it falls upon people like us to get the word out about this unfair treatment of poor residential customers. If this practice is allowed to continue in this manner, the United States then becomes no better than the Third World nations that we have sent armies to in order to protect against these human rights violations.

“What is happening in Detroit is a social crime and a violation of the human right to water and sanitation as recognized by the United Nations. It is a violation of the “Obligation to Respect,” whereby a right once realized cannot be removed.”

Detroit is a test area

If the Michigan government gets away with this here, they will take this program of water deprivation to other poor neighborhoods. This must be stopped. The leaders in Michigan must be held accountable for these human rights violations. The lack of democratic representation in Detroit due to the Emergency Manager put in place by Governor Snyder is appalling. It is time for the United States to look within her own borders and to fix the problems here before we go waltzing off to another foreign country to become the human rights police of the world.

In an interview with Thom Hartmann May 29, 2014, Barlow lays out the entirety of the situation and the dire consequences of allowing this practice to continue.


Edited/Published by: SB
martyMarty Townsend is an activist at heart. A lifelong writer, she concentrates her journalistic efforts on human interest, liberal politics, Michigan, educational and environmental issues. She is an active volunteer with the PTA, currently serving as Secretary of her local District PTA Council. She also stays busy volunteering as a youth softball coach for the summer league in her community and participates in Relay for Life. Marty frequently sports a near-shaved head ‘as a way to’ support of all women experiencing hair loss for any reason. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.