Over 1,000 Detroiters shut down traffic, demand the city “Turn the Water On”

I’m heading back into the conference now, but here are a few photos from today’s protest in response to the water issue in Detroit… I don’t know what the powers that be in Detroit must have been thinking when they decided to shut the water off now, just as 3,000 of our nation’s most radical progressive bloggers were descending on the City, but I’m sure, if they had it all to do over again, they would have done it a little differently. This thing is blowing up well beyond their control.






[note: Not everyone is sympathetic.]

update: Today’s Detroit Free Press feature, “Life without water makes for some difficult choices for Detroit residents,” does a pretty good job of laying out the situation as it now stands in Detroit. Here’s how it begins.

A single mother, living in the blighted Brightmoor neighborhood in northwest Detroit, keeps a jug of water by the toilet for flushing.

She takes a shower when she picks her daughter up at a relative’s home.

She heats up store-bought water in a microwave to wash her 6-year-old’s face and hands.

This Detroit mother chooses gas for her car over water.

The water shutoff situation in Detroit has reached a boiling point. For many low-income Detroiters, the city’s push for water shutoffs due to unpaid bills is creating a crisis.

If you are more than two months late paying your bill, and owe $150 or more, the Water Department may send a “shutoff technician” to turn off the tap. In May, the department shut off water for 4,500 residents. In June, the number hit 7,210 customers.

The Brightmoor mother said she recently landed a good-paying government job in Ann Arbor after years of no or low-wage work. It takes $20 a day to get back and forth to work. She owes $5,347 to the water department.

“It’s kind of impossible to pay everything and get to work,” she said. “We’ve been without water for three weeks now.

“I got caught up on my light and gas. I got caught up on the rent. The water was the last thing,” she said.

To get the water turned back on, she said she needs to pay $1,604.

“Now that I finally have a decent job, plus my saving, I can pay my bill. I believe in paying my bills. I do,” she said. “But they want $1,600, and I don’t have it.”

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  1. XXX
    Posted July 18, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I guess they could drink out of the Detroit River for free but we’ve allowed the corporations to pollute them.

  2. John Galt
    Posted July 18, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Let them sleep outside and collect dew on themselves.

  3. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    So she’s stealing sewer services?

  4. Demetrius
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand the strategy behind this movement/protest.

    Where were the big national-attention-getting protests and Hollywood celebrities when Detroit/Michigan neighborhood were being picked clean by multinational banks and their predatory loan practices?

    Or when Michigan legislators deliberately engineered policies that drove older Michigan cities like Detroit toward bankruptcy, privatization, and into the hands of “Emergency Managers?”

    Or when tens of thousands of public workers — including police officers, firefighters, teachers, bus drivers, and office clerks — were being told “sorry,” but the pension and health care benefits for which they worked for 20, 25, 30 years … won’t be there for them when they retire?

    While I’m sure there are many very poor people in Detroit who need/deserve help with paying their water bills, in this case it appears that many may have simply been strategically taking advantage of a system in which for many years on end there were little/no consequences for not paying.

    So I would ask the people behind these protests: Who *should* pay the cost for the hundreds of millions of dollars it costs to build and maintain a system capable of collecting, treating, and delivering billions of gallons water to millions of individual homes and businesses across a seven-county area?

    I’m sure the organizers mean well, and I suspect much of this outrage is really aimed at the multinational banks, corporations, and governments that have put Detroit (and Michigan) citizens in such a dire predicament … but having this much energy and attention focused on the water issue — while ignoring or discounting the larger forces at play — seems like a tactical mistake.

    And given metro Detroit’s already toxic landscape with regard to race, class, and geography, it is hard for me to imagine how having Hollywood celebrities descend from their private jets to lecture us all about how, for those living in the City of Detroit, water should be a “right” (presumably paid for by higher water rates on suburbanites) is really going to help.

  5. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Aren’t utilities bills already subsidized for low income households?

    How many months does it taken to rack up a $5000 water bill? mine is like $70 every 2 months during the summer w/ sprinklers running and like $50 every two months otherwise.

    She hasn’t paid a water bill in about 10 years and we are supposed to feel sorry for her?

  6. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Demetrius is spot on. We are not just talking about delivering treated water to houses, but also treating the shit and piss that those houses send back to the waterways. This is billions of dollars we are talking about. Someone has to pay that. Why do these people think they can go years or even decades getting that for free? this shit drives me nuts.

  7. Elf
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    From the Rustbelt Radical:

    Detroit sits next on 20% of the world’s fresh water and has the third largest water supply system in the country, and yet thousands of its people are denied access to clean water. If that’s not a damning indictment of the capitalist model, than I don’t know what is.

    Why not do what some places do that, by virtue of living in the land with all this oil, share that wealth in subsidies and investments in social services with residents? This water, owned by the citizens of Detroit, provides over 4 million people, largely in the suburbs with water. You would think it would be considered a huge asset of the city in its renewal. Instead of investing large amounts to identify and deal with the many redundant lines and services belonging to abandoned buildings, in order to restore some efficiency. No, the world of capital will not allow for that.

    New Detroit chooses to increase rates 9% on rates that are already twice the national average on the people least able to pay ($75 a month when you live on less than $1000 is simply a hardship). And then, turn off the spigot on the poorest and most vulnerable; those behind for the measly amount of $15, or as also happened in many cases—those in good standing. All the while water runs in the street from innumerable breaks, water continues to flow to countless abandoned structures and businesses that owe 100s of thousands in debt to the Water Department aren’t touched. The golf clubs necessary to make the privatizations deals that are undoubtedly already being discussed still get theirs, $400,000 of debt or not.

    But what’s not necessary to that deal, are all those black, and mostly poor, people that make up eighty-something percent of the City’s population. More than unnecessary, they are an impediment to be removed. Then the real ‘Development’ can commence.

    Remember when we learned about the end of Reconstruction, the reintroduction of share cropping, the end of black elected officials and the rise of Jim Crow? Well, I think we are looking at something analogous here now. Black political power was exercised, for the first time since Reconstruction, in the mainly large, northern industrial, urban centers, backed up by municipal and other unions. With the disenfranchisement of a majority of Michigan’s black citizens, the ‘Right to Work’ enactments and the end of manufacturing and with it, any hope at bettering your position through work, we can add what amounts to forced removal of unwanted population from those cities, so that the land might be better used.

    The end of the Second Reconstruction is happening now, in our cities, before our eyes; this time in the era of neo-liberalism, and of the first black President.


  8. Dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Eel, the water bills are already subsidized for poor people. They simply chose not to pay their bills because they knew it wouldn’t be shut off. Years and years of in paid bills. This is maddening. This isn’t someone behind $15 and a month late.

    Why the fuck are people rallying around people that refuse to pay their bills? This isn’t corporate greed. This isn’t people getting screwed by politicians. This is people trying to get something for free that costs billions of dollars. What the fuck is going on in this world?

  9. Demetrius
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink


    There’s no question that Detroit is a prime example of a community that has been repeatedly victimized by capitalist elites … and I’m fully in favor of helping/subsidizing elderly, disabled, unemployed people who need help getting or maintaining access to water … but this very same Freep article also describes an employed steelworker whose water was being shut off, and who when interviewed, said he literally had enough money in his wallet at that moment to pay his past-due water bills.

    Oversimplifying this issue by ignoring the issue of personal responsibility and/or attempting to make it all about “race” does nothing to help, and likely only fuels the toxic divides in our region.

  10. Dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Sorry, my response was to elf, not eel

  11. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Is it unreasonable to expect an able bodied individual to contribute 50 cents a day for drinking water, water for cleaning, showering and toilet water? Like Demetrius said, the concept of personal responsibility should be part of the conversation…People like to protest– It gives the IMPRESSION that they are compassionate.

  12. Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I think that Detroit needs to make allowances for the very poor or come up with innovative ways to pay for water service so that the very poor can have access to it.

    However, while access to clean water is a human right, there is nothing to suggest that access to water free of charge is a human right, which, more often than not, seems to be the underlying message.

    Michigan may have plenty of fresh water, but it still costs money to pump it in, treat it and then deal with waste water. .

    It seems that people don’t realize this. Regardless of ideology, this is just a reality

    I had to pay to get my well dug, the pump and to have a septic put in. Perhaps it was my human right to have that done for free?

  13. Posted July 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m still working through my thoughts on the matter. I’m by no means one of the most vocal on this subject. (I do not see how unlimited water can be delivered for free to all people.) With that said, though, I think the current situation we’re seeing unfold in Detroit is about more than just water. It’s about poverty, and a system in which the poor pay disproportionately more just to live. It’s just coming into sharp focus here, through the lens of water. I agree wholeheartedly that people who can pay their bills should pay them. I likewise agree that many people just haven’t paid for years because they knew they wouldn’t be shut off. (The las thill to get paid is likely the one that you don’t fear will be cut off.) I don’t think there’s any doubt, however, that many have been cut off who cannot afford to pay water bills that continue to rise. And I fear this is just the tip of the iceberg. With wages dropping faster and the cost of living rising, it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing stories like this across the country.

  14. Posted July 19, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Like Mark, I am still working out how to feel about this. Having said that, I have to say that Demetrius’ words really hit home. I respect the heck out of Demetrius and his words do ring true. What I can’t understand is why and how it got to this…did Detroit just not have the manpower/womanpower to send out people to turn it off? Or were they absent the day they checked water bills?

  15. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    a system in which the poor pay disproportionately more just to live.

    explain that? cause the poor pay almost zero

  16. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    and Mark (and others), if it is known that water is a necessity, and you mentioned that people put their bills on a hierarchy, then why is water not at the top of that hierarchy for these people?

  17. Posted July 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    If someone makes $2,000 a month, and the cost of basic necessities is $2,000 a month, then more of their income, percentage-wise, is going toward the buying necessities than someone who makes $10,000 a month. We can debate how much it costs to provide a family with basic necessities. And we can debate whether or not people are wasting their money on other things, when they should be focusing on necessities. I don’t think, however, that we can debate that the poor spend disproportionately more of their incomes on necessities.

    Furthermore, the poor often pay more for services. The rates they pay for basic financial services, for instance, are considerably more than most of us here in Ypsi-Arbor pay. Check cashing businesses and payday lenders routinely gouge the poor. Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the cost of water is considerably more in the city than it is elsewhere in the surrounding area. Property taxes are higher in Detroit as well, as I understand it. The list goes on.

    The bottom line is that it’s expensive to be poor in America.

  18. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    who is forcing the “poor” to use check cashing services?

    also, id like a link showing YCUA rates are “considerably” higher in the city. i have no idea if that is true or not, but that sounds preposterous to me

  19. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    also, “someone makes $2,000 a month” is going t have a lot of their shit paid for.

    you will never admit it, but its a lot more beneficial for someone making say $20k a year to not work at all. theyd have exactly the same lifestyle with govt benefits. So tell me, mark, why they should work?

  20. Maria
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Dan, they shouldn’t work. And they don’t. They can just go to one of countless Michigan Lawyers, who get them into the disability pipeline. Tens of thousands are lined up waiting to collect a free check.
    And the parents just keep having more kids they can’t pay for or take care of, because they know they will get welfare. A water bill is just one example of the bigger problem of lack of personal responsibility.
    You have one baby and need help? You should get welfare help. You have a second one? Done. No more money. The city is bankrupt. The state is pretty much bust too.

    If you don’t agree that people should be personally responsible, then keep voting for socialism, and soon we’ll have 40% unemployment, just like Spain. Is that compassionate to vote for idiots that want to transform this country into Spain?

    Pay your damn water bill people.

  21. dragon
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’ know what words mean- DAN


    — adj
    1. out of proportion; unequal
    If a person making near minimum wage, say 18k and a person making 70k both live in the same neighborhood and both have similar utility needs, (water, sewer,electric, gas, phone) and those needs average 4 thousand dollars, that’s 22.2% of one persons wages and 5.7% of anothers. Disproportionate. A real word, learn it.

  22. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Permalink


    the task was to explain what “a system in which the poor pay disproportionately more just to live.” means.

    please continue on your quest to address that

  23. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    correct that . “a system in which the poor pay disproportionately more just to live.”

    thats the issue.

    how are the poor paying disproportionately?

  24. dragon
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Dan, they shouldn’t work.
    Who’s they?
    And they don’t
    Again,who’s they?
    They can just go to one of countless Michigan Lawyers, who get them into the disability pipeline. Tens of thousands are lined up waiting to collect a free check.
    Surely out of thousands you can just one, please name on. One might think you are a huge racist asshole if out of thousands you can’t name even one.
    And the parents just keep having more kids they can’t pay for or take care of, because they know they will get welfare.
    Who are these parents(they)? This fraudulent scam is so pervasive you must know hundreds of (them) . I think you would be doing the whole community a just service to publicly shame these users. On the other hand you might just be a huge asshole. Let’s let the evidense answer that question.

  25. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Why do you hate straw men so much? what have they ever done to you?

  26. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    before you try to defend your blatant attacks on all men made of straw,

    tell me where I ever even insinuated that someone “just keep having more kids they can’t pay for”

  27. dan
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    lmao, mark editing the posts. how pathetic

  28. Posted July 19, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure I know what you mean, Dan. I do, on occasion, go back and clarify things in posts. In this instance, though, I don’t think I did anything but add a link to today’s Free Press article. What is that you think that I changed?

  29. Posted July 20, 2014 at 12:44 am | Permalink


  30. Posted July 20, 2014 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    An interesting article:


    I’m certainly of the opinion that this situation is the result of a failure of governance. The Detroit City Government should have been proactive about collecting fees for water in the past, and their failure has come back to haunt them, though in a manner slightly different than one might otherwise expect. Failures of governance would usually mean that water service would benefit no one or exclude the poor from the beginning.

    I am not very sympathetic here. Returning to a state of regular collections of fee for services does not constitute a human rights violation and, certainly, as I said before, there is no such thing as a “human right to free water” given the high costs of providing water services.

    However, the protests are clearly about more than water and should be taken seriously. The water issue has merely served as a springboard for demonstrations regarding a long history of political and economic marginalization and poor city governance.

    As for whether the poor pay more to live, they do. Payday loans are often the only banking services available to the poor, as regular banks and credit unions don’t usually offer liquid credit to people whose account balances are usually zero. Non-poor people have credit cards, also a service unavailable to the very poor. This is exactly why payday loan places are able to operate. And while it can be debated as to whether the poor need to have access to liquid credit at all, sudden expenses while living hand to mouth can surface at anytime in the form of disease, injury and car repairs.

    It has been shown that prices for goods in poor areas are higher than in wealthy areas even in absolute terms. Detroit’s lack of a large grocery store, for example, forces people to buy food from convenience stores and small markets which are not able to buy good in bulk and pass savings on to customers so that households pay more for food than other places. While it can be argued that people could just visit a farmers market, many poor people work multiple jobs and require the convenience of 24 hour access to food, something a farmers market can’t provide.

    From afar, it all seems simple. Having been poor for most of my life, I can tell you that it is not. Poverty is a complicated existence, it is expensive and full of volatilities.

  31. Mr. X
    Posted July 20, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    That’s quite an evolution from “I paid to have my week dug,” Peter. I’m proud of you.

  32. Thom Elliott
    Posted July 20, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    …but personal responsibility is the single most important existential criteria whatsoever, if these thousands of people in pure destitution cant pay their water bill, let ’em die. The illiterate denizens of an apocalyptic postmodern ruin should be just like the heroic and spiritually pure corperate people who rule our plutocratic oligarcy. As you know our corperate overlords are just bastions of personal responsibility, and never require handouts…like the 110 billion dollars Fortune 500 companies have recieved in corperate welfare since 1976, which includes 13 billion dollars for Boeing, & over 1 billion for Berkshire Hathaway. We also must keep the billions of tax dollars flowing to Israel so they can have enough ammo to murder soccer-playing Palestinian children on beaches. These international corperations with assets in excess of 58B (Warren Buffet) actually need our welfare more then these lazy, good for nothing, socialist blacks, who probably should just be executed en masse for their lack of personal responsibility.

  33. John
    Posted July 20, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    So the President wants $1.8 billion to house and care for illegal immigrants (or undocumented workers, or refugees, or whatever people are calling them now), while people in our own cities can’t pay their water bills.

    Something is wrong with priorities here.

  34. Posted July 20, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    “That’s quite an evolution from “I paid to have my week dug,” Peter. I’m proud of you.”

    Not at all. There is no “human right to cost free water.”

  35. Thom Elliott
    Posted July 20, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m very interested to know what ‘human rights’ even are…at all. If water is not a human right, when every man woman & child require water to live, & we are made of over 70% water, then what is a ‘human’ ‘right’? Are these solely what the technological fist of our twisted nihilisitic world deigns to contingently grant to us? Are rights somehow rooted in the disordered ratiocinations/incomplete project of the Enlightenment from 400 years ago? Are they intrinsic to being-human? Like a human being has apriori rights a fortiori? Or does the vengeful sky god of the US religious nihilists give them to us? Where do rights come from, and what are they?

  36. Posted July 20, 2014 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Great question, Thom.’

  37. kjc
    Posted July 20, 2014 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Thom: don’t confuse them with actual depth of thought.

  38. wobblie
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    “you will never admit it, but its a lot more beneficial for someone making say $20k a year to not work at all. theyd have exactly the same lifestyle with govt benefits. So tell me, mark, why they should work?”
    Dan you are living in the past. Able bodied males get no government assistance. with TANF, woman only receive assistance for a maxium of 4 years life time here in Michigan. I guess you have not notice the explosion of begging on our streets. This last year I began seeing young able bodied woman at exit ramps begging for the first time.

  39. Oliva
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Gotta say, it looks and feels like a pathology–this (highly engineered, heavily sponsored) turn toward anti-community in the guise of wanting “freedom.” It’s not natural! The people who pretend they got where they are on their own have invested so much in disliking others, sitting in judgment. If not for grants of a kind and pooled resources, would they have drinkable water, a highway to drive upon, a school, a library, a life? Funny (not funny!) how they keep track to make it look like they’re paying for things while others are not. A very unseemly construction. Gotta move beyond this willfully unwholesome era–we know it could be much better for many more people. So much work to do . . . not exactly simple work either.

  40. Lynne
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    The programs for poor people to help them pay for their water are inadequate. Water in the city of Detroit costs about double what it costs in Ypsilanti, partly due to things like older infrastructure and a large number of people not paying. Free water (up to a point) is a human right imho. The solution seems obvious to me. Socialize water and provide a certain amount per person free of charge and then charge a LOT for anything over that amount. Get the people who landscape or fill pools to subsidize everyone else.

    And for those of you who have no compassion for your fellow human beings, look at it from a purely selfish angle. There are some serious diseases which can crop up if sanitation isn’t adequate. If there is one thing society should want to encourage, it is toilet flushing and hand washing. Just from the public health perspective.

  41. Demetrius
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    @ Lynn.

    “Socialize water and provide a certain amount per person free of charge and then charge a LOT for anything over that amount. Get the people who landscape or fill pools to subsidize everyone else.”

    This is an intriguing idea. And I would certainly add golf courses to the mix.

  42. Lynne
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Indeed. I might mention that the Palmer Park Golf Club in Detroit owes the city $200,000 in unpaid water bills. We also use a lot of water for things like baseball fields. Comerica park owes the city $55,000 for water. Hockey ice rinks apparently use $80,000 of water which has not been paid for. If we are going to have a discussion about deadbeats, perhaps we can start there?

  43. Anne
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I also feel somewhat conflicted about this issue and even more so after talking with folks I know who run and fund raise for water assistance programs in Detroit. As already mentioned the folks having their water turned off have not paid their bills for years knowing that there would be no repercussions. In addition, many of those who could not legitimately pay could have qualified for assistance through these programs, but chose to just not deal with the issue. It is partly due to the Water Department’s inability to collect or enforce collections that has resulted in these rate increases. However, the rates remain quite low compared to most around the country.

    The other issue is that this whole movement was not actually started by folks familiar with the water issues in Detroit. It appears to be yet another well meaning attempt by an outsider (a Canadian lady in this case) to “save” Detroit. I found it incredibly odd that none of the articles I’ve read (at least early on) bothered to get in touch with local nonprofits actually working on water issues in Detroit. At this point many of those local folks seem to be just shaking their heads and steering clear of the uproar.

  44. kjc
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    if you have the luxury to be “conflicted”, then just be happy nothing’s happening that affects you directly. i’d like to know what articles you’re all reading and who you’ve interviewed personally.

  45. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink


    From what I have gathered here (mm.com) it seems reasonable that someone would feel conflicted about this regardless of whether or not water shut offs directly effected them. If you have stories and articles that shed more light on this subject then please share those stories. But please don’t assume that someone is living in the lap of luxury or soft if that person has come to the conclusion that an able bodied citizen of America should be able to scrape together 50 cents a day to contribute to/ have access to clean water for drinking, bathing, and washing….Regarding the golf courses and athletic fields–hell yes, they should be contributing their fair share too!

  46. karen
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    i wanted to help the detroit water department so i watered the lawn for an extra two hours today. every little bit helps. if we all watered our lawns for just an extra hour a day maybe they wouldn’t have to shut off anyone’s water for non-payment.

  47. Mark Lee
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    The comments of Peter Larson are always so interesting!

  48. kjc
    Posted July 23, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    “But please don’t assume that someone is living in the lap of luxury or soft if that person has come to the conclusion that an able bodied citizen of America should be able to scrape together 50 cents a day to contribute to/ have access to clean water for drinking, bathing, and washing…”

    yes, please lecture me on making assumptions about people i don’t know personally. you are clearly the expert.

  49. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink


    Actually, I was not assuming, I was attempting to qualify my statement–limiting my judgment for only those people that are “able bodied” (employable). I understand that we are vulnerable to all different kinds of disability causing setbacks. I just dispute your assumption that everyone who is conflicted about this issue is somehow insulated from harsh realities. It might just be that different people are reacting more appropriately to the same harsh reality by making the payment of their water bill a top priority. It is not even difficult to imagine that some of the people, who fell behind on their bills and thereby had their water shut off actually understand that it is not fair to receive water for free. I don’t know. I have fallen behind on my bills and although I don’t like getting disconnected from a utility and paying the reconnection charge I understand that it is not fair to receive a free utility…I just dispute your premise that people who have their water shutoff (because of non payment) are necessarily going to think of themselves as victims of an injustice. Likewise, just because someone feels conflicted about this issue does not mean they are insulated from tough times.

  50. Anne
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Well now you can pay off someone’s water bill in Detroit direct through a site set up by a few folks from out of State.

    Though my suggestion is that if you really want to help, donate to a great local organization such as WAVE that assists low income residents with their water bills

  51. Posted July 27, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    An interesting blog post regarding water issues in Detroit.

    *So what about Detroit?
    I have followed Detroit’s fall with interest, mostly because I am hoping that an entrepreneurial government will allow a thousand flowers to bloom in the hollowed-out city (population has dropped by 60 percent; 200,000 properties are vacant). That process will take time, even if it’s going in the right direction.

    In the meantime, the city is bankrupt, and one-third of its debt ($5 billion) is linked to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), which is trying to collect $175 million in past-due debt from its customers.

    This action is sensible but controversial in two ways. First, DWSD is cutting service to customers who do not pay their bills. Second — and far worse — DWSD is going after debts of as little as $150 from 150,000 residential customers even as it waits for repayment from 11,000 larger customers who owe half the total.

    These actions have led to a petition from the human-right-to-water crowd, asking the President to declare a human health crisis, i.e., to prevent DWSD from charging customers. That’s a terrible idea because it undermines the utility’s finances now AND later. Why would anyone pay for water they can get for free?

    My opposition to the petition does not mean I oppose financial help for the poor or their continued access to drinking water. Here’s how I’d handle the situation:

    Drinking water SERVICES should NOT be a human right (=free) because they — like electrical services — cost money

    Detroit has mismanaged many dimensions of life, including poverty, jobs and water management

    The utility MUST continue to operate, and it needs money for that
    Past debt may not be customers’ fault, since the utility may have over spent, etc.


    The poor should income support to pay for food, rent and water. They should NOT be given free water

    The utility should go after biggest customers FIRST, as the cost per $1,000 of debt recovery will be MUCH lower

    The government may face a welfare burden, but welfare works through income transfers, not cheap — or free — water

    Bottom Line: The government (and taxpayers) should bail out the poor. Bigger customers should be chased for repayment. All customers should pay their future water bills.*


  52. Grumpy
    Posted July 27, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Potable water to drink is a basic human right. That represents about 1% of the 100 gallons of water used by the average American. Flushing the toilet with clean water that is fit to drink is not not a human right.

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] few days ago, in the aftermath of a quick post about the ongoing water crisis in Detroit, a reader by the name of Anne left a comment suggesting that, to a large extent, non-profits […]

  2. […] a human rights investigation, and news crews from around the world descended upon the City, where people had literally taken to the streets in protest of a policy that not only deprived Detroit’s most vulnerable citizens of clean drinking […]

  3. […] a human rights investigation, and news crews from around the world descended upon the City, where people had literally taken to the streets in protest of a policy that not only deprived Detroit’s most vulnerable citizens of clean drinking […]

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