Detroit says it's restored water to nearly everyone amid COVID-19
In a letter to the state, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says it’s aware of fewer than 10 homes that continue to be without water service.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has ordered that all municipalities reconnect households that had been shut off for nonpayment during the COVID-19 crisis. Detroit launched a program in early March that allows households to reconnect for $25, then an additional $25 per month for the duration of the pandemic.
“DWSD has exercised best efforts to determine which occupied residences within the service area do not have water; that to the best of DWSD’s knowledge and as of the date of this report no occupied residences have their water service shut off due to nonpayment; that DWSD has reconnected water service for all known occupied residences that can be reconnected without creating a risk to public health; and that DWSD has exercised best efforts to remedy the conditions that prevent reconnection due to a risk to public health,” DWSD director Gary Brown wrote on April 10.
DWSD has restored water to 1,121 homes as part of that program, spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh said on Friday.
But activists say the city’s numbers don’t add up, and they continue to hear from households that lack water service.
Shea Howell of the People’s Water Board Coalition said the department’s own data shows a gap that far exceeds 1,100 between the number of documented shutoffs and restorations.
“The city has consistently underrepresented the dimensions of this problem, and it has serious implications for public health,” Howell said.
Justin Onwenu, and organizer with the Michigan Sierra Club, said the city’s data has been unreliable.
“Many of the numbers they’ve provided have contradicted themselves,” Onwenu said. “But those numbers need to also be based on the on-the-ground observations of advocates who are doing the work.”
The city said some discrepancies between shutoff numbers and restorations can be explained by the fact that the vast majority of homes recently shut off appear to be vacant. But activists question whether the city tried hard enough to ascertain whether the homes were truly abandoned or not.
They’ve organized a petition to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, urging him to turn the water back on at all shutoff residences. They’re also calling for a task force to examine the impacts of continued water shutoffs on public health.
Peckinpaugh said DWSD has received more than 25,000 calls to its restoration program hotline, but the vast majority of callers don’t qualify for the program. Some restorations have been slowed because homes need plumbing repairs first, but those have largely been taken care of.
“Most of the callers have water service in their home and are trying to get a reduced bill,” Peckinpaugh said.
“We are also receiving calls from homeowners who are rehabbing houses and hoping to benefit from this plan, specifically from the plumbing repairs, as they move people into the home either through rental or sale in the near future," he said. "They do not qualify. Only currently occupied houses are eligible, and the plan is not intended to address needed home improvements.”