Detroit Utility Doesn’t Believe Water Is A Human Right, Continues Shut Offs

June 13, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has shut been shutting off water weekly for anyone “behind $150 or more on their water bills, or whose accounts are 60 days overdue,” Michigan Citizen reports. Nearly half of Detroit’s population falls into this category.

Shut offs have included residents who are already on a payment plan to repay the utility for their delinquency. Many people hit with shut offs did not receive any notice from DWSD beforehand, which violates the department’s own protocol. To get water turned back on, customers must pay a fee higher than most of their monthly payments, even after a week of no water.

Greg Eno, a spokesperson for DWSD, denied that residents weren’t being informed of the shut offs and couldn’t explain why people on payment plans would experience shut offs at all. However, he remained confident that DWSD are taking the right steps to ensure they are paid back their missing revenue:

There had been some folks in other areas of city government (who) put pressure on the department — putting forth the notion that water is a basic human right. The fact of the matter is of course we have a huge infrastructure that needs to be paid for. It’s an old infrastructure. We have a number of people who are not paying their bills and it just can’t go on. It’s a new day and it’s a new way of doing things.

Blaming the infrastructure for these problems has further angered activists in Detroit who have been organizing protests over the last few weeks against the shut offs and the faulty logic they claim the city is using to justify them. Officials blame the delinquency of residents for their lack of funds to fix the infrastructure, but Abayomi Azikwe and Jerome Goldberg of Moratorium NOW! have a different theory as to where the money went, they told Michigan Citizen:

“In 2011, there were bonds floated in total of a billion dollars to fix the infrastructure” said Goldberg. “But $537 million went instead to pay off interest rate swaps to JP Morgan Chase, UBS, Morgan Stanley and (other financial institutions),” Golberg said. “The banks were rewarded. More than half of the money for infrastructure went to banks. (Now) we’re talking about raising rates on Detroiters and going through with tens of thousands of shutoffs.”

“Cutting off water is a human rights violation. People are entitled to basic amenities,” [Azikwe] said. “This is not coming from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, it has nothing to do with their guidelines, you can make arrangements to pay past due water bills. This system is set up specifically to intimidate, to terrorize, to drive people, particularly African Americans out of the city of Detroit.”

The Detroit After Party organization set up an online registry, like the one used during Occupy Sandy, to request supplies for those living without water and other amenities in Detroit right now. Protests are scheduled to continue every Friday at 4pm outside of the DWSD building. (Photo by Diane Bukowski)