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17,000 households at risk of losing their drinking water in fifth round of water shutoffs in Detroit

The Council of Canadians Windsor-Essex chapter acting in solidarity delivered water to the people of Detroit, July 2014.

The Council of Canadians and Blue Planet Project have been speaking against water shutoffs in Detroit – highlighting that they are a terrible violation of the human right to water – since they began in May 2014.

Four years ago, Maude Barlow, the honorary chairperson of the Council of Canadians and the founder of the Blue Planet Project, wrote, “Detroit is a victim of decades of market driven neoliberal policy that put business and profit ahead of public good. It is important to acknowledge the class and race dimension of this assault. There have been no stories on the cut-offs in the mainstream U.S. media. One cannot imagine that fact if the people losing their water were middle class white people. The daily cut-offs of water in Detroit, water needed for life and dignity, are an affront to the notion that we have advanced very far in our understanding of human rights or in its practice.”

Mother Jones now reports, “In the next few weeks, Detroit is set to start shutting off water to thousands of residents with unpaid bills.” The article notes that more than 17,000 households are now at risk of shutoff because their water bill is 60 days or $150 past due and that “there have been more than 101,000 shutoffs in the past four years.”

The City of Detroit, defending its policy, says that roughly 2,000 households will actually lose their water this year given repayment and assistance plans.

We are additionally concerned, as highlighted in the article, that while the City of Detroit says it has spent $7 million over the last two years to help people facing water shutoffs, it will disproportionately spend $7.8 million this year alone on a contract with Homrich Wrecking to go to homes and shutoff their water.

As Barlow noted back in May 2014, Mother Jones also reports that 80 per cent of Detroit’s population is black, more than 35 per cent of its residents live in poverty, that unemployment stands at about 9 per cent, and that “water rates have climbed as much as 400 per cent in the last 20 years.”

The article highlights, “Some water rights activists see the city’s intransigence as more evidence of a quiet campaign to push poor people of color out of the city. In a recent study, We the People [a grassroots groups fighting the water shutoffs] found that many home foreclosures concentrated in Detroit’s black communities were driven in part by overdue water bills. ‘It’s about using water to displace residents in order bring in a younger, whiter population to dilute black political power in Detroit’, [We the People  president Monica Lewis] Patrick says. They are ‘weaponizing water as a tool of gentrification.'”

In June 2014, the Blue Planet Project and allies called on the United Nations to take immediate action to help restore water services and stop further water shutoffs. Two United Nations special rapporteurs subsequently stated that Detroit’s water shutoff policy is a “violation of the most basic human rights”.

In July 2014, Barlow, Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui, and our Windsor-Essex chapter transported 1,000 litres of water in 50 jugs to families in need as a tangible solidarity action. In October 2015, a delegation of Council of Canadians activists, the Blue Planet Project’s Meera Karunananthan and allies visited Detroit to learn more about the situation and further express our solidarity. In September 2017, Barlow, Lui, and our Guelph chapter took part in a community-based ‘Water Is Life’ summit in Flint, Michigan that discussed the issue of water shutoffs along with other concerns related to the commodification and privatization of water.

The Council of Canadians and Blue Planet Project call on Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to immediately take action to stop the upcoming water shutoffs.