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Water Shut-Offs Threaten Third-World Conditions in Michigan

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By Phreddy Wischusen
Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department officials recently announced water accounts over 60 days past due or owing $150 or more would be turned off. The shut-off program, which affects businesses and residences, is expected to have a far-reaching impact – almost half of the city’s accounts are currently delinquent, according to reports.

Lack of access to clean running water for bathing, cooking, cleaning clothes and dishes is both a private and public health concern, allowing the spread of infection and disease

DWSD Deputy Director Darryl Latimer said the shut-offs are “nothing new.”

“We do this every year. We’ve always shut people off for being delinquent in their water service,” Latimer said. “We’ve always in the winter suspended that because when the temperature gets below 32 degrees you have the propensity for lines to freeze up because of the weather, so we curtail our shutoffs for delinquencies because if someone comes and pays and then we turn the water back on you’ll sometimes find that the line has frozen.”

Keith Williams is currently unemployed and raising two teenaged sons as a single father. After hearing about the shut-offs he was able to pay his overdue bill, but is struggling financially. With skills in various trades, Williams was recently looking to buy a vacant home to fix up for his family. Every home he looked at, he says, had water leaking into the basement.

“They leave the water in these vacant homes running continuously,” he told the Michigan Citizen, “but they’ll turn yours off for $150.”

According to Latimer, DWSD can shut off leaks in vacant properties within 2-3 days, but asks citizens to call DWSD and report leaks in vacant properties. “A lot of times people assume someone has called, but nobody has,” he said.

Additionally, Latimer says the DWSD will sometimes work with people on reducing their rates if there has been a leak. DWSD now has technology available to monitor water usage that can alert homeowners if there is a spike in water usage indicating a leak.

He says the monitoring technology can help residents avoid exorbitant bills for wasted water they cannot afford. Customers can call 313.267.8000 to have DWSD install the monitoring device if they don’t already have it.

Marian Kramer, of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, has been fighting for decades to ensure equal and universal access to water — and residents’ basic human rights. She sees the shut-offs as part of the system of emergency management, of which she says all of their goals are the goals of corporations that profit at the people’s expense.

“I’m outraged,” Kramer told the Michigan Citizen about the shut-offs. “Our standard of living is under attack.” Both the mass shut-offs and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s plan to lease the DWSD to a private company constitute all out war.”

Kramer says water is the only necessity to “sustain and live on this planet.”

She calls the city’s water source “Detroit’s gold,” and says using the water and the water system — an inalienable right for humans — as an asset to be traded to settle bank debt is tantamount to “robbing us without a gun.”

Kramer says the 2013 transfer of Highland Park’s water services (at that time not under emergency management) to DWSD, “done without the proper procedures,” paves the way for the privatization of all community held assets by Governor Rick Snyder’s appointed emergency managers.

She calls on communities to fight the shut-offs and the privatization, organize their communities, protest and refuse to pay their bills.

Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM) has called for a citywide shutdown on May 1 in response to the shut-offs, EM Orr’s proposed cuts to city workers’ pensions and statewide emergency management. The shutdown will commence with a prayer breakfast and rally at UAW 600 (10550 Dix Ave., Dearborn).

Kramer says the best way to stand up for water rights is to participate in the May 1 shutdown.

For now, if people have had their water turned off, she recommends calling the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization for advice and assistance at 313.964.0618.

Kramer believes preserving water rights for the future is just as important as keeping the water flowing today. “We’re not going to leave (our children) on a desert island,” she says.

In 2002, Klaus Töpfer, former chief of the U.N. Environment Program, said, “Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty.”

At an official 17.7 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detroit leads Michigan in unemployment. Some put the number closer to 50 percent, which includes individuals who are no longer in the labor database.

A public meeting will be held by the Detroit Socialists on April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Detroit (4605 Cass Ave.) to protest the shut soffs. Learn more about D-REM and how to participate in the May 1 shutdown at www.d-rem.org or call 313.782.3736.

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