Washington, D.C. – As first reported in the Associated Press, a national survey released today by Food & Water Watch reveals that Detroit had the ninth-highest water shutoff rate in the United States in 2016. It shut off more than one in eight homes for nonpayment that year.
Food & Water Watch contacted the two largest water systems in each state, receiving responses back from 73 utilities, including the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Data obtained from the utility revealed a 13 percent shutoff rate – more than one out of every eight homes – affecting 27,588 households, or an estimated 72,005 people. The second utility surveyed in Michigan, the Lansing Board of Water & Light, responded that the data did not exist.
Nationally, the average responding water utility shut off five percent of households for non-payment in 2016. Based on this data, Food & Water Watch estimates that 15 million people in the United States experienced a water shutoff in 2016, or one out of every 20 households. The states with the highest rates were mostly concentrated in the South: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida.
The survey found that more than one in five households in Detroit receive water bills that exceed 10 percent of their income – the highest water cost burden of any city surveyed, with typical household water bills exceeding $1,000 a year.
“Low-income residents in Detroit are facing charges for water service that are eating up more than 10 percent of their income, the steepest water burden among surveyed cities,” said Mary Grant, Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “By any metric, that is simply unaffordable. Detroit urgently needs to stop the shutoffs until it implements an income-based water affordability program.”
“Detroit has been a harbinger of our nation’s water affordability crisis,” said Sylvia Orduño from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. “For more than a decade, along with the Detroit People’s Water Board, we have organized for a low income-based water affordability program as the right solution to stop the mass water shutoffs here since 2004, but our city and state officials have left our call unanswered — even in the face of international criticism. This new report shows that Detroit is not alone. Unaffordable water is a nationwide crisis that demands real solutions today.”
While the average city with the most shutoffs is low-income, not all low-income cities engage in mass shutoffs. Jackson, Mississippi had high rates of poverty (31 percent) and a zero percent shutoff rate. Meanwhile, some cities surveyed, like Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Leominster, Massachusetts do not shut off water service for non-payment at all.
In response to the news, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) said, “We’ve long known what the report confirms: Detroit’s water affordability problem is real and has been for nearly 10 years. These shutoffs are disproportionately affecting low-income and minority residents in Detroit; this is unacceptable. But, I am surprised the extent to which other cities across the country are experiencing a similar crisis. To combat this crisis, we must have all hands on deck. Water is a human right and every person should have guaranteed access to affordable water. For this reason, I’m supporting the WATER Act, which would reinvest federal dollars in our aging infrastructure and fully fund safe, clean and affordable water nationwide.” The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would provide $35 billion a year to drinking water and wastewater improvements.
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
Accompanying data visualizations (embed codes available upon request):
- Interactive Map: http://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/wyUkk/14/
- Interactive Chart of Survey Results: http://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IUvzm/9/
Video/B-roll—Mary Grant discusses top findings from the report (interviews available upon request): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyYrDOSh4Y8
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]