News Media Coverage

Below, we have collected news stories chronicling the water crisis in Detroit starting in early 2014. This is not a complete compilation, but provides an overview of the issues Detroit residents have been facing.

6.9.20: Will Detroit be returning to mass water shutoffs in the middle of a pandemic? Planet Detroit

With Governor Whitmer’s emergency order for the COVID-19 pandemic set to expire on June 19, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) could begin shutting off people’s water again, a practice that has affected over 140,00 Detroiters since 2014. Shutoffs had been banned and reconnections ordered for all water customers in the state as part of Governor Whitmer’s executive order (EO) on March 28. An earlier agreement set up a plan for Detroiters to maintain service for $25 a month during the COVID-19 emergency. The emergency order is set to expire on June 19, with Detroiters confronting an unemployment rate above 20% and some water users facing the prospect of needing to pay down arrears — including debt accumulated during the emergency while on the $25 plan — to DWSD. ()

4.28.20: During and After COVID-19 Crisis: Detroiters Continue Struggle Against Water Shutoffs. Riverwise

For many Detroiters, the coronavirus has only intensified economic emergencies that were already a daily nightmare. Access to clean water, for example, is an ongoing catastrophe for affected Detroit households. The medical community at large is still grappling to understand the virus and why it has manifested the way it has. The fact remains, however, that the effects are disproportionately greater in black communities than anywhere else. To be denied water during a viral pandemic, with news sources indicating constantly that hand-washing is the best defense against contagion, amounts to the continued humiliation and subjugation of communities of color. ()

4.27.20: The Hell of Sheltering in Place Without Running Water. Mother Jones

When US health officials began urging people to wash their hands more in February as a precaution against the coronavirus, Detroit knew it had a problem: Since 2014, its water department had shut off service for about 141,000 accounts—cutting off tens of thousands of households that couldn’t pay their bills, in a city where nearly 4 in 10 people live in poverty. Many shutoffs were in Brightmoor, a working-class neighborhood, and other parts of the city’s northwest. ()

4.24.20: Coronavirus: ‘I can’t wash my hands – my water was cut off’. BBC

Unlike in many European countries where it is illegal, US households have the water connection turned off for non-payment of bills. That has left many Americans without water at a time when they are being told that one of the most important things they can do is wash their hands. “I have been without water for about six months now,” says Akiva Durr. A mother of two girls, she lives in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods not just of Detroit, but of the entire country. ()

2.26.20: Detroit says no proof water shutoffs harm health. Get real, experts say. Bridge

Water is life, the old saying goes. But does denying it to thousands of people pose a threat to public health? More than 150 years of science may say yes, experts say, but that may not be enough as the Detroit City Council prepares a resolution asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare the city’s water disconnections campaign an “imminent danger to public health” and impose a moratorium on them for the needy. ()

2.17.20: I hate to complain, but I haven’t had water in a year. A Detroit story. Bridge

No matter how weary life becomes, Litha Akins prides herself on keeping a nice home: framed photos of better days on the mantle; ribs in the oven; freshly cleaned floors and candles for comfort. Housework is hard, though, without running water — and Akins owns one of the roughly 9,500 homes in Detroit that city records indicate remain without water after the city disconnected them for nonpayment last year. So every day since April, the 56-year-old with lung disease said she fills up jugs from a neighbor’s home to bathe, cook and drink, while praying regularly for relief. ()

08.21.19: Detroit has 5,000 homes without water: New pilot program only helps 70. Detroit Free Press

Roughly half the Detroiters who lost water service this year are still living without water. That’s 11,813 shutoffs this year, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says, with around 5,118 Detroit households still disconnected. The water department believes that 4,470 of those households are occupied. This is nuts. ()

08:19:19: From Flint to Newark to Pittsburgh: Why do American cities fail to protect our water? Rolling Stone

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A U.S. city is facing a public health crisis, after years of denying that it had a problem with lead in its drinking water supply. In 2016, that would have been a reference to Flint, Michigan. This week, it’s Newark, New Jersey, where city officials on Sunday resorted to handing out bottled water to affected residents.

Lead has long been recognized as a potent neurotoxin. The health effects of lead exposure in children include lowered IQ and increased risk of behavioral disorders. Exposed adults are more likely to develop a slew of health problems including nerve, kidney, and cardiovascular issues. Pregnant women and babies are especially vulnerable, as even low levels are associated with serious, irreversible damage to developing brains and nervous systems. ()

05.14.19: She was born to fight – and did for 3 years without water in Detroit.  Bridge


From 2013 to 2016, she survived by collecting rainwater in a garbage can placed under the roof of her rented, tax-foreclosed bungalow in Detroit’s decimated Brightmoor neighborhood. We met in 2015 because Coleman was among the first wave of shutoffs in Detroit’s collections crackdown, a tally that has since grown to 112,000 customers... “She wasn’t a martyr. She was a real woman with a real voice,” DeMeeko Williams, chief director of the Hydrate Detroit nonprofit, said at a memorial service for Coleman last week. “She did what so many people wouldn’t do. She spoke up about what happened, despite the ostracism and despite the people on [Internet] chat rooms saying, ‘Just pay your damn bill.’ She gave voice to the voiceless.” ()

02.08.19: A Water Crisis Is Growing In A Place You’d Least Expect It. NPR

A nine-month investigation by APM Reports examined the cost of water in six large cities near the Great Lakes – Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Buffalo and Duluth – over the past 10 years and found that rates have risen alarmingly fast. In Chicago, the cost of water for the average family of four nearly tripled between 2007 and 2018. Cleveland’s rates more than doubled – to $1,317 per year for an average family of four. And families in Detroit paid an astounding $1,151 annually. By contrast, that same average family living in Phoenix, which pipes in much of its water from 300 miles away and has been called the least-sustainable city in the country, paid about two-thirds less. ()

10.4.18: Detroit pastors call for an end to water shutoffs.  Michigan Radio

Religious leaders gathered in downtown Detroit to call for an end to the city’s water shutoffs. The city began issuing shutoff notices in May. Since then, it has turned off water for 11,422 people, and 8,559 of those have had service restored. The religious leaders are calling for the city to establish a program that would allow residents to pay a rate for water based on their income. Reverend Steve Bland of Liberty Temple Baptist Church spoke at the rally, “It is inhumane, and sacrilegious, to build a great city on the backs of its impoverished people, and then deny them the basic human rights like food and water.” ()

6.8.18: In Search of Solution to Detroit’s Water Shutoffs, Could Philly Hold the Answer? WDET

Reverend Roslyn Bouier opens a door at the Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry, where a single pallet of bottled water is stacked in the corner. There’s only a few cases left. This is where our water station is, and usually the water is up so high,” Bouier says pointing above her head. ”I have a delivery coming this Wednesday.” Bouier provides water to families who have had their water shut off or who are facing contamination issues. She gets the water from the activist group We the People of Detroit… Bouier says demand for the water is highest now, after the first of the month, when shutoff notices come out from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). She says the people who come for the water often carry a burden of profound shame, especially parents of small children. ()

8.13.18: New research shows water bills are unaffordable across metro Detroit.  Michigan Radio

Low-income households across metro Detroit can’t afford their water bills, and new research from the University of Michigan says there’s now an affordability gap: people are paying more for water than they can actually afford. Water poverty within the city of Detroit has been a known issue for several years now, but the new survey of houses across Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties aimed to investigate whether the water affordability gap exists outside of the city limits too. Dahlia Rockowitz, one of the student researchers who worked on the project, said the results were conclusive. “What we found is there are people struggling everywhere,” Rockowitz said. (…)

10.26.2017: Water crisis hits Michigan suburbs: ‘We’ve been sounding alarms for years.’ Crains’ Detroit

When a massive water main broke this week in Oakland County and made tap water unsafe to drink for 305,000 residents, a top utility official called the mishap “unprecedented.”

Experts fear it could be something else: a byproduct of aging infrastructure in Michigan whose failings are becoming more frequent and dangerous. A task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder last year concluded that Michigan water systems need $60 billion in upgrades.

“There’s no question. As infrastructure gets older, we’re seeing these things happen more frequently, and the cost for repairs is only going to increase,” said Sean McBrearty, a campaign organizer with Michigan Clean Water Action, an environmental group. (…)

7.26.2017: Experts see public health crisis in Detroit water shutoffs.  Detroit Free Press

A preliminary study conducted by researchers at the Henry Ford Global Health Initiative found that patients who live on blocks that experienced water shutoffs were 1.55 times more likely to be diagnosed with a water-associated illness. The study was the subject of a news conference Wednesday at Wayne State University’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. (…)

5.2.2017: Detroit cites progress, but water shutoffs actually rose last year.  Bridge
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Camay Larry has a bucket under her gutter and tattoo over her heart. The bucket collects rainwater from the roof so she can flush her toilet. The tattoo reads “Cry Later” in cursive. It’s become a daily affirmation since the City of Detroit disconnected her water a few weeks ago. She says she needs to stay strong for her one-year-old son, Juan.

“What I’m going through right now, I have to laugh for my baby because he doesn’t know this isn’t normal,” says Larry, 24, whose house on the east side is filled with jugs she spends much of her days refilling. (…)

4.19.2017: Nearly 18K at risk as Detroit water shutoffs begin. Detroit News

The city’s water department began the controversial practice of shutting off water service on Wednesday to some of the nearly 18,000 residential customers with delinquent accounts.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department shutoffs resumed after notices went out 10 days earlier, water department Director Gary Brown said.

It was unclear Wednesday how many residents had their water service disconnected. (…)

3.31.2016: Detroit hits residents on water shut-offs as businesses slide. Detroit News

Detroit last year shut water service to 23,300 homes — the equivalent of every household in the city of Pontiac — but left the taps running at thousands of businesses that owe millions of dollars, city documents show. Businesses and government-owned properties owe nearly twice as much as residences, $41 million compared with $26 million for homes, but only 680 were shut off in 2015, according to records obtained by The Detroit News through the Freedom of Information Act. It’s a discrepancy that outrages neighborhood activists, who say residents have unfairly borne the brunt of a two-year shut-off campaign on delinquent accounts. (…)

8.22.2014: In Detroit, Water Crisis Symbolizes Decline, and Hope.  National Geographic
Past Due Accounts

Rochelle McCaskill was in her bathroom about to rinse the soap off her hands when the water stopped. Slowed by lupus and other ailments, she made her way to a bedroom window, peered out, and spotted a guy fiddling with her water valve.

“There must be a mistake,” she yelled down. McCaskill explained that she had just paid $80 on her $540.41 overdue bill, enough, she thought, to avoid a shutoff. The man wasn’t interested in the details. He cranked off her water and marked the sidewalk by her valve with bright blue spray paint, a humiliation inflicted on delinquent customers that McCaskill likened to “a scarlet letter.” Then he drove off in a truck with the red, white, and black logo dreaded citywide: “Detroit Water Collections Project.” (…)