March 28th, 2020
As our state continued battling an outbreak of novel coronavirus that devastated a number of our communities, particularly the city of Detroit, frontline organizations including We the People of Detroit, People’s Water Board, Flint Rising, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, and the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition worked to elevate water shut offs as a top issue for the Governor’s office. Access to clean, potable water is a human right, fundamental to good health and hygiene, and is necessary to combat the spread of the virus and curtail its effects on our state.
We applaud Governor Whitmer and her team for recognizing this as an urgent problem needing to be addressed by issuing Executive Order 2020-28. This Executive Order, effective for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, requires the immediate reconnection of household water service disconnected by water utilities due to non-payment or damaged infrastructure. The order requires public water suppliers to identify homes in their service area that do not currently have access to clean water and restore service to these homes if at all possible.
In many cases, residents do not have access to water due to the poor, obsolete, or damaged water infrastructure where they live. To help communities comply with the reconnect requirement, the order also creates a much needed “Water Restart Grant Program” with $2 million in the form of grant reimbursements from the Michigan Department of Environment, Grant Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to fund the improvements. EGLE will prioritize high-risk municipalities that have a plan in place, agree to a 25 percent local match, and ensure their plumbing contractors effectively communicate proper pipe flushing and filter cleaning procedures. Flushing stagnant water from pipes and cleaning water filter screens are critical to removing lead and bacteria that may have accumulated while water was shut off.
It is important to recognize that these orders do not require service providers to offer affordable, income-based payment plans for water, nor do they absolve consumer obligations to pay water bills. In the interim, as the water is turned back on, community access to water remains critical. There is clearly more work to be done.
We thank Governor Whitmer for recognizing that water is life by ensuring every Michigander has access to the basic human right of clean water during this health crisis.