Groups Demand Whitmer Enact Water Shutoff Moratorium To Fight Coronavirus

Above photo: Rebecca Cook, Reuters.

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 shigellosis 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, shigellosis, 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, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Michigan State University

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; Highland Park Human Rights Coalition

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 Orduño, Organizer, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

Rev Edward Pinkney, President – CEO, Black Autonomy Network Community Organization

Kimberly Redigan, Michigan Coalition for 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, State Chair, 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 Member, 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