Statement on Governor Whitmer Inaction on Water Shutoffs, Public Health Safety

Peoples Water Board

Posted March 13, 2020

Public health endangered by depriving thousands of clean water

DETROIT — Today, a large coalition of social justice groups released a statement which serves as the basis for a letter and a petition to Governor Gretchen Whitmer. In the document, they call on Governor Whitmer to use her executive authority to declare a moratorium on water shutoffs because of the current and impending health crisis. The groups cite the need for everyone to have access to clean, safe water as a way to combat the spread of coronavirus which the Centers for Disease Control affirm will spread in the United States. They have released the following statement:

In light of the impending health and social crisis of coronavirus and the current health crisis of shigelloses and other water-related illnesses caused by thousands of households being deprived of water, we the undersigned demand that Governor Gretchen Whitmer work with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to call for an immediate moratorium on all water shutoffs in the State of Michigan.

Hundreds of thousands of people in low-income families across the state have borne the brunt of the record rise in the cost of water services and the unaffordable water bills that have resulted from that rise. The unconscionable act of depriving anyone of water because the cost is more than they can afford has resulted in a health crisis, that, with the advent of coronavirus, has the serious potential to be magnified and spread due to thousands not having access to water. The ultimate solution is to implement income based water bills based on the Water Affordability Plan. The immediate, short term solution must be a moratorium on water shutoffs and the immediate restoration of service where it’s been disconnected.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency for the entire United States to aid the nation’s healthcare community in responding to COVID-19 (coronavirus.) The World Health Organization has already declared a public health emergency, naming it an issue of international concern. For this reason, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that all Michigan residents have access to clean, safe, and affordable water. We must stop the water shutoffs that are occurring in our communities to prevent the further spread of potentially fatal infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

  • The City of Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, became the first major city in the world to shut off hundreds of thousands of its most vulnerable residents from water and sanitation, flouting the consensus of an international body of research that shows water, sanitation, and hygiene access are essential to maintaining mental and physical health, and to halting the spread of infectious disease.
  • The Centers for Disease Control recommendations for common prevention strategies include the following specifically:
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Michigan residents have particular reason to fear the spread of coronavirus because the ongoing deprivation of tens of thousands of people from basic access to water and sanitation puts everyone at risk
  • Residents deprived of water in their homes have been sharing or borrowing water at an alarming rate — 80% in one study — creating a transmission path for coronavirus, as well as hepatitis A, shigelloses, campylobacter, and giardia, all of which have been plausibly linked to the shutoffs by health officials
  • The city and state have neglected to put any public health measures in place or to study the problem
  • Those shutoff from water are already more likely to be infants or children, elders, and/or people living with chronic illness — the same factors that predispose people to a more serious course of illness or death if they catch the virus
  • It should not take an outbreak to realize that lack of water and sanitation poses a danger to the public health of those impacted by shutoffs, and everyone in our state

Governor Whitmer must act in the best interests of every person in the State of Michigan. Basic health and safety must be the top priority. The threat of widespread disease makes it imperative that every household has access to clean, safe water for drinking and sanitation. That means the Governor must use her authority to declare a moratorium on water shutoffs across the state.

Rabbi Alana Alpert, executive director, Detroit Jews for Justice
Charles Altman
Russ Bellant, former licensed Water Plant Treatment Operator, City of Detroit.
Randy Block, Director, Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network
Rev. Roslyn Bouier, executive director, Brightmoor Connection, Detroit People’s Platform, Equitable Detroit Coalition
Jennifer Carrera
Piper Carter, Hartwell Block Club Environmental Justice & Equity Cultural Organizer
Rev. Cass Charrette, People’s Water Board, Poor People’s Campaign
Detroit People’s Platform
Faculty-Staff-Student Alliance for Climate and the Environment (FSSACE), Oakland University
Jennifer Fassbender, Coalition to Oppose the Expansion of US Ecology
Barbara Ford, R.N., President of Davison Association of Block Clubs
Nadia Gaber, PhD University of California San Francisco/UC Berkeley, We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective
Georgia Street Collective
Mary Grant, Public Water for all Campaign Director, Food & Water Action
Rev. Denise Griebler, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Detroit; Michigan Coalition for Human Rights
Mary Ellen Howard, RSM, Sisters of Mercy, People’s Water Board
Dr. Shea Howell. James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership
Kim Hunter, Engage Michigan
Darryl Jordan co director, East Michigan Environmental Action Council/Cass Corridor Commons
Alice B. Jennings, Partner, Edwards &Jennings, PC
Marian Kramer, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization
Emily Kutil, University at Buffalo, We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective
Reverend Leah McCullough, pastor, Trinity-St. Mark’s United Church of Christ Detroit
Lou Novak, Co-Chair Green Party of Michigan
Sylvia Ordu=C3=B1o, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization
Rev Edward Pinkney, president — CEO, Black Autonomy Network Community Organization
Kimberly Redigan – Michigan Coalition for Georgia Street Community Collective Inc
Human Rights Vice Chair, People’s Water Board
Cyndi Roper, Michigan Senior Policy Advocate Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program
Natural Resources Defense Council
Mike Shane, member, Moratorium NOW Coalition
Sierra Club Michigan Chapter
Maureen Taylor, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization
Jennifer Teed, Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network, Peoples Water Board, Frontline Detroit
Nickie Van Lier, member People’s Water Board
Fred Vitale, board president, East Michigan Environmental Action Council
Dr. Paul von Oeyen, social justice facilitator – Detroit Metropolitan Association Michigan Conference, United Church of Christ
We the People of Detroit
Diane Weckerle, board, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, co-chair Coalition to Oppose the Expansion of US Ecology
Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, Peoples Water Board, Michigan Poor Peoples Campaign Rights; People’s Water Board

This statement originally appeared on the People’s Water Board website on February 28, 2020 here.