Affordable Water is a Public Health Issue
July 12, 2018
My mother has been living in the same house in Detroit since 1965 and did not have problems paying her water bill until recently. When she became disabled, she had to figure out how to live on a fixed income. She, along with many others who are living on low fixed incomes, have to decide whether to pay their water bill or to buy the medicine that they need or to put food on the table. These decisions are not made lightly. The average past due water bill in Detroit is $663. With the median household income at $26,249 (compared with $57,617 for national median income) and with nearly 40% of our residents living in poverty, the water shut offs will continue to occur in Detroit and this is an environmental justice issue that must be addressed.
It was estimated in March 2018 that 17,000 Detroit residents are predicted to have their water shut off due to non-payment of their water bills. This not only affects residents financially, but this can affect their health as well. Not having access to clean water can lead to an increase of disease and a decrease in quality of life. Not being able to do something as simple as washing your hands, bathing, or cleaning your food can have great health implications. With the Hepatitis A outbreak rampant in Detroit, access to clean water is more important now than ever. Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that is passed though fecal matter. One of the ways to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A is through hand washing after using the bathroom and before preparing meals. With the potential water shut offs, people will not be able to perform basic hygiene care and disease will spread in the city causing a bigger public health issue.
Detroit used to have over 1 million residents, but now Detroit has under 675,000 residents. With the loss of a solid tax base, the Detroit Water Department had to make up the financial difference with rate increases. Since 2014 the price of water has gone up for city residents, but this means that many low-income residents are stuck with water price hikes that they cannot afford. Shutting off water for nonpayment will only lead to an increase of water theft but also, many children will be at risk of being removed from their homes by child protective services. The only “crime” their parents would have committed is being poor.
To address this public health and environmental justice issue, The city of Detroit Water Department could consider a sliding scale fee based off of income for water instead of a standard monthly bill according to usage. Everyone knows that having access to clean water is not free, but the city could get more payment consistency from residents then what they have now if they consider a different approach. Also, the city could have the suburbs pay the same amount they expect Detroit residents to pay. I, myself pay $70 to $100 dollars for my water every two months while my mother pays $70 to $100 monthly and we have around the same water usage. For years the suburbs were paying lower rates and it’s time that they pay their fair share.
By not having access to clean water because of costly rates will not only harm the families but it will put other citizens at risk. History has shown us that improper hygiene can create/spread sickness and can cripple a community. For Detroit to have some of the highest water rates in Southeastern Michigan is inexcusable. People, whether their water is at risk for being shut off or feel that Detroit water bills are too high,
should write their Detroit city council district members and ask them to consider a sliding scale fee plan for all Detroit citizens. Water affordability should be a human right.