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Detroit residents staged civil disobedience to stop the water shut-offs
Detroit residents staged civil disobedience to stop the water shut-offs. Source: Detroit Water Brigade.
Next week, thousands of online progressive activists will attend Netroots Nation in Detroit. Many large corporations headquartered downtown—such as the Joe Louis Sports Arena, next door to the convention center—are delinquent in water bills, but their water is still running.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department has cut off water to over 14,000 residential customers in the past three months alone. Now, some are taking it to the streets.

Some 50 demonstrators on Thursday held a protest outside the offices of Homrich, a company contracted by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to stop the flow to residences at least two months past due on their accounts. At least nine of the activists were arrested by Detroit police and charged with disorderly conduct when they temporarily blocked trucks from leaving the company’s parking lot [...]

The activists say that in a city with a poverty rate of 44 percent, and where water bills are higher than in much of the country, Detroit should work out a solution with poor residents instead of leaving them dry. Otherwise, they say, they’ll have no other choice but to take to the streets.

This is all part of an overzealous move to address Detroit’s $18 billion debt (of which $6 billion can be attributed to DWSD), in a city where half the residents are behind in their water bills.

But it’s certainly not a question of people being unwilling to pay.

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.
The situation has gotten so bad that Detroit activists successfully petitioned a U.N. panel to call the water shutoffs a violation of human rights, and now Canadians from across the border have generously offered to donate thousands of gallons of water for Detroit’s population.

So how did Detroit get into this situation, and why is the DWSD suddenly sending shut-off notices to low-income residents—some of whom were behind by as little as $150 in their water bills? It has a lot to do with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointing an “Emergency Manager” to clean up the city’s finances after Detroit went bankrupt in 2013.

Detroit filed the largest Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy action in US history in July 2013. Or, rather, Jones Day, the giant corporate law firm and employer of Kevyn Orr, the "emergency manager" appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, filed that action in Detroit's name. [...] The governance and access to billions of dollars in revenue flowing through the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has become, as knowledgeable observers always knew it would, a major political football and economic prize in this struggle. [...] The objective is to eliminate bad debt and make DWSD look better on paper for purposes of active ongoing regionalization and privatization negotiations.
So if you’re attending Netroots Nation, what can you do? For starters, National Nurses United is planning a march on Friday at 1:00 p.m. to demand a moratorium on water shut-offs.

And regardless of whether you’ll be in Detroit next week, here are some great local resources:

The Detroit Water Brigade has an excellent website with tons of info, that you should bookmark. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. The People’s Water Board also has a good blog, which provides some background information and events.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Will be there on the 18th! (8+ / 0-)

    And I am looking forward to joining a whole LOT of other Kossacks and other NN14 attendees at the markch.

    At this point, I just want America to admit that it still doesn't want its Black citizens to live in any state other than terror, subservience and inferiority, under pain of death. I can handle American racism, but I can't handle American denial.

    by shanikka on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 11:43:21 AM PDT

  •  Here's a link to the Donate Page (7+ / 0-)

    of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, one of the groups spearheading this resistance.
    Thanks for keeping awareness up about this issue.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 12:07:56 PM PDT

  •  The city has a dying tax base, (0+ / 0-)

    and not enough money to go around to pay for the basic services (traffic lights, maintenance, water dept., etc.) for the folks that are left. Either the state of MI will have to pay for the difference, or the federal government. The right place to protest is therefore either in Lansing or in DC. Detroit has no money, in fact they have negative money (ergo the BK filing). The truth is that this is much bigger than just a water problem; unless many tens of billions are committed by the federal government to revitalize Detroit, the best thing for all involved is to leave for cities that actually have functional economies.

    •  It's the poor who can't afford to leave, and (5+ / 0-)

      the poor whose water bills are being shut off for being as little as $150 in arrears, while big businesses have no such worries.

      They want to sell it off:

      The public water system, a prized resource worth billions and sitting on the Great Lakes, is now the latest target – and the water shut-offs are a way to make the balance-sheet more attractive in the lead up to its privatization.
      Loot it, in other words.  Privatization = looting.

      © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

      by cai on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 01:00:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  a very stupid excuse to simply be evil (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cai, raspberryberet

        Because the incremental cost of that water they have shutoff is about zero. It further impoverishes already poor citizens which ultimately makes this utility less rather than more valuable.

        If they were truly concerned about the financials of the water system they would implement a discount program and collect what these people could afford rather than have to write off these accounts entirely.

    •  This is an unpopular, but correct.. (0+ / 0-)

      I understand the desire to protest for water in the city of Detroit.   But the problem in Detroit with water is somewhat due to the city, but the city isn't the one who can directly fix this.  As of current, the city standards still go through the statehouse which means there isn't anyone in the city who could effectively say "you're right, let's turn the water back on"

      This creates a serious problem for citizens and activists.   I embrace their right to protest and I encourage those who do as it is a human rights issue.

      The problem is, the real grounds for protest really isn't in Detroit.   It is in Lansing.   That's terrible because you would hope there would be grounds to change, but under an Emergency Manager, as well as a court order regarding collection of debt, the city isn't going to bend, no matter how many protestors show up.. in fact, in some ways I wonder if a protest in Detroit doesn't just add to the problem by distancing Lansing from the fact that they caused this.. they can say "see, it's Detroit again.. and now all those out of staters are there protesting.."

      But a protest of instaters to let them know you are aware that the problem really originates in the state capital seems to me like the only real effective means on this.

      I know this will be unpopular, it's just something I've been thinking on this issue.

      Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle
      >Follow @tmservo433

      by Chris Reeves on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 08:07:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the info. (5+ / 0-)

    Of course corporations get exemptions.  It would be a public hazard to shut off water to stadia.

    Of course, having no water in the house is also a health hazard.

    And hey, did I hear correctly that Detroit has hired a private company, at big bucks, to shut off people's water?  So much for it being a "budgetary necessity".

    © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

    by cai on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 12:48:10 PM PDT

  •  a self-defeating policy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northerntier, ladybug53

    For starters, depriving citizens of water can only result in other costs to the city going up because these poor people will make greater demands upon social services.  It may makes sense to file a motion with the bankruptcy court asking the court to restore water service on this basis.

    Moreover, the major costs for such a water utility are things like salaries and facilities upkeep.  So there is some impermissible ulterior motive in operation here and this should also be brought before the court.

  •  A little thing but not really. (3+ / 0-)

    Hopefully a non-profit can get together with others and tests people's toilets.

    I don't know the percentage of renting or owning, but a great waste of water can be leaked through a toilet.  

    I never heard our toilets running nor was there water on the floor, but got such a gigantic water bill, something HAD to be wrong, so when I called the water company, they tested the meter and it was "fine."  But then they told me how to test to see if my toilets were "leaking," and they all were.

    Now... not that there is enough money to fix everyone's toilet, but it's just an idea and it's a small start to not unknowingly waste water.  

    I don't have any idea about how to go about getting this done, but just throwing it out there.


    where is the the compassion?  If the people can't pay their water bills, they certainly can't afford to run to store and pay for gallons of water to bathe, cook, drink, wash clothes.

    Hell, I saw a segment today where a Texas rancher knows there is a trail on his ranch where people traverse who have crossed the border, and he leaves gallons of water on the worn trail so people won't die, but still many do.

    Dallasdoc: "Snowden is the natural successor to Osama bin Laden as the most consequential person in the world, as his actions have the potential to undo those taken in response to Osama."

    by gooderservice on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 01:55:15 PM PDT

  •  Turning off the water (0+ / 0-)

    will start the deluge. Hopefully.

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