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Judge won't step in to halt Detroit water shutoffs

Sep 29, 2014

The judge in Detroit’s bankruptcy case has refused to put a stop to the city’s controversial water shutoffs.

Judge Steven Rhodes ruled Monday that there is no fundamental “right or law” to guaranteed water service.

Rhodes also said halting shutoffs would jeopardize water department revenues.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Detroit residents and activists, who wanted Rhodes to put a six-month moratorium on the shutoffs.

More from Sandra Svoboda at Next Chapter Detroit, Michigan Radio’s partner in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative:

Rhodes called the city’s “10-Point Plan” that helps customers “a bold, commendable and necessarily aggressive plan” that appears to have “been generally successful.” But he also pointed out that it’s “less clear” that the plan will be of any assistance to those too poor to pay water bills.

“This program has led to a significant number of service restorations,” Rhodes said. “There remain, however, thousands of customers whose service was terminated and not restored.”

Rhodes agreed with the plaintiffs – a group of water customers, attorneys and welfare rights groups – that irreparable harm occurred when water service is halted. But he also said “significant harm” could occur to the city if the six-month stay was granted. “The last thing it needs is this hit to its revenue,” Rhodes said.

Alice Jennings, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said they plan to appeal.

“This case is going forward on the due process, the equal protection [claims], the Michigan constitution minimum levels for health and safety, [and] the fact that DWSD let these bills get so big," Jennings said.

Jennings says Detroit’s water rates are simply too high for many city residents to afford—and the city should offer service based on a customer’s ability to pay.