Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
Washington, D.C.—“Nearly three years after it started an aggressive plan to shut off water service to households that are delinquent on their water bills, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is at it again. This week it announced it would once again deny service to people who cannot afford their water service. This is absolutely unacceptable, but a sad and unavoidable reality when federal funding for community water systems declines.
“Community groups have been working to establish a water affordability program for over a decade, as water rates have steadily climbed over the past several years—partially to compensate for much-needed infrastructure upgrades. But nearly 40 percent of Detroit households live below the poverty line, and it is not fair to expect them to make up for the dwindling federal support for their water system.
“While the city has implemented a payment assistance plan, shutoffs increased from 2015 to 2016, indicating that the plan is not working. Moreover, many of the recommendations issued by the United Nations when it investigated the shutoffs in 2014 were never implemented.
“Since its peak in 1977, federal funding for water infrastructure has dropped by 74 percent in real dollars. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on our water services but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. The EPA estimates we will need $697 billion over the next 20 years to update our drinking water and wastewater systems. Decreased federal investment in infrastructure often translates to higher rates for consumers—that money for repairs still has to come from somewhere, after all.
“Communities of color and low-income households are disproportionally affected by unaffordable water service and contaminated water. Unaffordable water service can tear families apart. Lack of running water can be a reason that parents and other guardians lose custody of children. Lack of water access in the home may be considered child neglect in 21 states and water shutoffs have led to children being taken from their homes under child protection laws.
“The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan will not help matters, unfortunately. It will encourage corporate exploitation of water systems, leading to higher service rates, degraded water quality and fewer well-paying local jobs. But a bill recently introduced in Congress by Rep. John Conyers of Detroit will help communities. The WATER Act will reverse the decades-long decline in federal water system funding by creating a dedicated source of annual funding to improve and update water and sewer lines, replace aging and lead-ridden pipes and help ensure that every household in the country has reliable water and service they can afford.
“Water is a human right that no person should be denied access to. The water problems in Detroit have stagnated long enough. It’s beyond time to stop the shutoffs, implement an income-based water affordability plan and to pass the WATER Act.”
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, [email protected]