Tag: Detroit

New York Times: Going Without Water in Detroit

Click here to read the article on NYtimes.com 

By Anna Clark

DETROIT — A FAMILY of five with no water for two weeks who were embarrassed to ask friends if they could bathe at their house. A woman excited about purchasing a home who learned she would be held responsible for the previous owner’s delinquent water bill: all $8,000 of it. A 90-year-old woman with bedsores and no water available to clean them.

These are the stories that keep Mia Cupp up at night.

Ms. Cupp is the director of development and communication for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, a nonprofit contracted by the state of Michigan to work as a human-services agency for Detroit. In August 2013, with a $1 million allocation, Wayne Metro became the only program to assist residents with water bills. Ms. Cupp quickly learned that this was “by far the greatest need.”

In January alone, Wayne Metro received 10,000 calls for water assistance, many of them referred directly by the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage. It supported 904 water customers over 10 months before exhausting its funding in June. Ms. Cupp said Wayne Metro still gets hundreds of calls a day from residents. But it has no way to help them, and nowhere to refer them.

Detroit borders the Great Lakes system, containing 21 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. The lakes are the source of the city’s water supply, but a growing number of residents can’t turn on the tap. Over the past three months, the water department has conducted an aggressive shut-off campaign to get more than 90,000 customers to pay $90.3 million in past-due bills. Between March 25 and June 14, 12,500 Detroit customers had their water shut off.

The average monthly water bill in Detroit is $75 for a family of four —nearly twice the United States average — and the department is increasing rates this month by 8.7 percent. Over the past decade, sales have decreased by 20 to 30 percent, while the water department’s fixed costs and debt have remained high. Nonpayment of bills is also common. The increasing strain on the department’s resources is then passed on to customers.

But residents aren’t the only ones with delinquent accounts. Darryl Latimer, the department’s deputy director, told me that the State of Michigan holds its biggest bill: $5 million for water at state fairgrounds. (The state disputes the bill, arguing that it’s not responsible for the costs of infrastructure leaks.)

local news investigation revealed that Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, owed $82,255 as of April. Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play, owed more than $55,000. City-owned golf courses owed more than $400,000. As of July 2, none had paid. Mr. Latimer said the Department of Water and Sewerage would post notice, giving these commercial customers 10 days to pay before cutting service. But he did not say when.

And in the meantime the city is going after any customers who are more than 60 days late and owe at least $150.

The department reports that 60 percent of its customers pay in full or begin a payment plan within 24 hours of a shut-off, and water service is reinstated. Mr. Latimer said that this proved that many could afford their bills, and simply weren’t paying them.

The city of Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy protection a year ago, certainly has not just the right but the obligation to demand payment of outstanding bills.

But cutting water to homes risks a public health crisis.

Instead, the water department should more aggressively target delinquent commercial customers who carry a large share of the unpaid bills. It should enact a comprehensive plan to fix leaking pipes; flooded streets are common here, and water customers — whether the state or ordinary residents — must pay for sewerage, not just running water, and often are billed erroneously for these leaks.

The department must also ensure that water is shut off to abandoned buildings, and eliminate errors in address transfers. Mr. Latimer explained that the department used addresses rather than names as the collectible agent on an account — a problematic practice in a city of 80,000 vacancies,rife with foreclosures.

Ms. Cupp said that the average bill for the residents Wayne Metro has helped was $1,600; she saw one as high as $10,000. The water department’s standard payment plan requires at least a 30 percent down payment. This is out of reach for many. To increase participation, the department should eliminate the down payment, as well as the $30 reconnection fee it charges.

The department went on the record with local news organizations last week, saying that it would introduce a financial-assistance program on July 1 in partnership with a nonprofit, the Heat and Warmth Fund, and would use more than $800,000 in funds collected through 50-cent donations on monthly bills.

This was good news, but the announcement was premature. On July 1, a representative for the nonprofit said the program might not be operational until August. Meanwhile, Ms. Cupp said Wayne Metro had asked the water department to stop giving out its number to needy customers until it could get additional funding.

Mr. Latimer said that mass shut-offs were the only way to find the shirkers: Those who can pay will do so quickly. But their neighbors are left to fill jugs of water at the homes of friends or at fire hydrants to meet basic needs. Even for a city that has grown accustomed to limited city services, like streetlights and police response times, this is a new low.

“I’ve seen water problems in poor countries and the third world,” said Maude Barlow, the board chairwoman of the nonprofit Food and Water Watch. “But I’ve never seen this in the United States, never.”

Anna Clark is a freelance journalist and the editor of “A Detroit Anthology.”

Water cut offs in Detroit a violation of human rights

By Guest Blogger Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of the Canadians and longtime partner of FLOW.
Read the original post here.

Maude Barlow Detroit MI Great Lakes

Maude Barlow speaks in Detroit, MI

I recently visited Detroit, Michigan and am shocked and deeply disturbed at what I witnessed. I went as part of a Great Lakes project where a number of communities and organizations around the basin are calling for citizens to come together to protect the Great Lakes as a Lived Commons, a Public Trust and a Protected Bioregion. We are also deeply worried about the threat of extreme energy such as diluted bitumen from the tar sands of Alberta and fracked oil and fracking wastewater from North Dakota being transported by pipeline and rail near the lakes and on barges on the lakes and are calling for a ban of these dangerous toxins around and on the Great Lakes.

But the people of Detroit face another sinister enemy. Every day, thousands of them, in a city that is situated right by a body of water carrying one fifth of the world’s water supply, are having their water ruthlessly cut off by men working for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Most of the residents are African American and two thirds of the cut offs involve children, which means that in some cases, child welfare authorities are moving in to remove children from their homes as it is a requirement that there be working utilities in all homes housing children.

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?

Detroit is a victim of decades of market driven neoliberal policy that put business and profit ahead of public good. Social security programs have been slashed and their delivery privatized. Investment in essential infrastructure has been slashed. Every winter, hundreds of aging pipes spew water from leaks and the water has not been turned off in thousands of abandoned houses and boarded up businesses where frozen pipes also lose huge amounts of water.

With globalization and the hollowing out of the once mighty auto industry, wealth and businesses fled to he suburbs, draining the city of its tax base and the water department of its revenues. (There are one million fewer people living in Detroit than there were in the 1950s.)

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.

Recently, the city of Detroit was declared bankrupt by the state and a high priced bankruptcy lawyer was named Emergency Manager with a mandate to get the city back on its feet financially. Nothing is off the chopping block, not the city’s famous art collection or its water utilities which are about to be privatized. As the feisty Charity Hicks, a leader of the resistance to the cuts and a founding member of the Detroit People’s Water Board, which includes welfare and human rights groups and environmentalists, points out, authorities see these unpaid bills as a “bad debt” and want to sweeten the pot for a private buyer. Hence the rush to implement a ruthless plan of cut offs for anyone more than two months behind in payments.

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.

L Brooks Patterson is the elected CEO of the affluent Detroit suburb of Oakland. In a recent interview in the New Yorker, he affirmed that a statement he had made 30 years ago was still valid. “A number of years ago I made a prediction and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a wall around it and then throw in blankets and corn.'”

This man wins his elections with huge majorities.

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.

The situation in Detroit is a travesty and the governments of Michigan and the United States itself must be held accountable.

President Obama must step in.

As more and more of the public space is privatized and sold off to corporations, is this our collective future? Never before have the differences between the 1% and the poor been greater in America.

The daily cut offs of water in Detroit, water needed for life and dignity, are an affront to the notion that we have advanced very far in our understanding of human rights or in its practice. We all stand guilty if we do not shout out against this terrible injustice on our continent.

Photos: Maude Barlow Presentation in Detroit: Great Lakes and Water Privatization

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow panorama

The Wayne State Engineering Building auditorium was full for Maude Barlow’s presentation on Great Lakes and Water Privatization issues.

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow Will See speaking

Artist Will See opened the evening bringing a poetic voice to describe the situation of water issues in Detroit.

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow Olson speaking

FLOW Founder Jim Olson discussed the public trust as the legal basis for preventing the privatization of public water supplies, in Detroit and around the world.

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow Maude speaking

Keynote speaker Maude Barlow helped contextualize the issue of water privatization and shut-offs in Detroit in the scope of global water privatization struggles, and the ultimate successes of the public in maintaining cost-effective, shared water systems.

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow Gaia Women singing

The Gaia Women led the group in song to close the evening, “to connect the head to the heart” and capture the essence of the importance of water both physically and spiritually.

2014-05-23 PWB and Maude Barlow

Maude joined a number of People’s Water Board Coalition members after her presentation.

World Renowned Water Activist, Maude Barlow, to Speak on Regional Water Issues in Detroit

Click here to view and download the press release as a PDF.

May 14, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Liz Kirkwoood, Executive Director

231 944 1568 or liz@flowforwater.org

World Renowned Water Activist, Maude Barlow, to Speak on Regional Water Issues in Detroit

Detroit, Mich. – On Thursday, May 22 at 6:30 p.m. the People’s Water Board Coalition will partner with Wayne State University’s Office of Sustainability to host a special discussion on regional Great Lakes water issues and public trust with Maude Barlow.

Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of the national consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch. Barlow is the recipient of eleven honorary doctorates as well as many awards, including the 2005 Right Livelihood Award (known as the “Alternative Nobel”), the Citation of Lifetime Achievement at the 2008 Canadian Environment Awards, and the 2009 Earth Day Canada Outstanding Environmental Achievement Award. She is also the best-selling author or co-author of 17 books.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) recently announced its plan to shut-off water at thousands of Detroit residences. At the same time Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager, Kevyn Orr, has announced his intention to privatize DWSD, the drinking water provider for roughly four-million people in southeast Michigan. This event will highlight the benefits of protecting our water systems from private interests, and why public control is the key to ensuring safe, clean, affordable water for all.

Barlow will be available after the event to sign copies of her new book Blue Future.

This event is free and open to the public.

Who:  People’s Water Board Coalition

Speakers: Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians; Jim Olson, Founder, President and Advisor of FLOW (For Love of Water); others to be announced.

When: Thursday, May 22, 2014, Doors at 6:00 p.m. Program 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Where: Marvin I. Danto Engineering Development Center
5050 Anthony Wayne Drive
Engineering Development Center (EDC)
Auditorium, Room 1507,
Detroit, MI  48202

Parking: Parking Structure 2 – 5150 Lodge Service Drive, Detroit, MI 48202

The cost is $6.50. There is also metered 2-hour parking located on the street. The cost for 2 hours is $2 at a meter.

The People’s Water Board includes: AFSCME Local 207, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Detroit Green Party, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Food & Water Watch, FLOW, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Matrix Theater, Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, Sierra Club and Voices for Earth Justice.

# # #

FLOW is the Great Lakes Basin’s only public trust policy and education 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our mission is to advance public trust solutions to save the Great Lakes.

Great-Lakes-tabloid-Detroit

May 22 – Detroit, MI: Maude Barlow Great Lakes Tour

This event is sponsored by the People’s Water Board Coalition.

Date: May 22

Time: Doors at 6:00 pm, 6:30 program commences

Location: Marvin I. Danto Engineering Development Center, 5050 Anthony Wayne Drive, Engineering Development Center (EDC), Auditorium, Room 1507, Detroit, MI 48202 (map)

Registration: Event is FREE – parking is $6.50

You can RSVP on the Facebook event page if you like.

Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, water warrior, and author of Blue Future, is coming to Detroit to speak about issues facing the Great Lakes and what we can do to solve them.

Join us for this special speaking engagement. Book signing follows the program.

Great-Lakes-tabloid-Detroit