Not since Hurricane Katrina has there been such a widespread and clear example of environmental racism and classism as what is happening in Detroit, where access to clean water is only accessible to those who can make a high living wage to pay for it.
This morning, one of the leading local organizations fighting against the widespread shutdowns of water, the Detroit Water Brigade, held a demonstration. Ten activists were arrested after attempting to peacefully blockade several Detroit Water and Sewage Department trucks to stop them from shutting off the water to several households.
These shutdowns are happening in preparation to privatize the DWSD by city emergency manager, Kevyn Orr. At the end of June, the DWSD claimed that about 80,000 households, or 40 percent of Detroit residents, were not paying their water bills on time and have continuously threatened completely shut off their water. The ironic and tragic reality is that these families are struggling to get water even as Michigan state borders the Great Lakes, which provides 21% of the world’s surface freshwater.
With the exception of a few outlets, reporting on Detroit’s water war is absent from mainstream news coverage. With the median household income in Detroit being about $28,000 per year, the DWSD charges four times the national average, making it unaffordable for these families. As we’ve seen with previous environmental crises before, the people being hit the hardest are those in largely black communities. The longer these people are without water, the higher the risk of a widespread public health crisis.
The Detroit Water Brigade is currently collecting donations of water cases for families whose water is disconnected, and for their legal fund. Other organizations such as Food and Water Watch and The Detroit People’s Water Board plan to appeal to city officials, President Obama, as well as the U.N. to declare that there is a public health emergency in Detroit due to the city’s immense human rights violation. A large protest is being organized by several local organizations and activists on July 18to stop the shutdowns.