Detroit Water Works: How a Bankrupt City Is Putting the Squeeze on Its Tapped-Out Residents 

Earlier this year the bankrupt city began a massive push to collect on the $118 million owed by residents, which included threatening some 150,000 Detroiters with water shutoffs.


A total of $150 or two months of past-due water bills is all it takes for the already bankrupt city of Detroit to shut off someone’s water. With work scarce and money even harder to find, some 150,000 residents have been threatened with shutoffs by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and local activists told The Guardian that the water shutoffs could affect up to 300,000 of the city’s poor African-American community.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the city announced in March that it was going to start cracking down on residents with unpaid bills totaling approximately $118 million. If payment arrangements were not made, residents’ water would be shut off. The Free Press notes that the city’s water department planned to shut off about 3,000 customers per week.  

“Detroit’s water crisis did not happen in a vacuum,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said in a statement viewed by the Free Press. “Over the past decade, Detroiters have seen their water rates increase by 119 percent. Over this same period, forces beyond city residents’ control—including a global financial crisis that left one in five local residences in foreclosure and sent local unemployment rates skyrocketing—severely undercut Detroiters’ ability to pay.”

In the coming days, Conyers plans to introduce legislation that would eliminate massive shutoffs, a process he considers inhumane and “economically shortsighted,” the Free Press reports.

On Thursday Change Agent Consortium, a coalition group in Detroit, plans to protest in front of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Board Building.

In the past weeks the water war became so drastic that local groups appealed to the United Nations for support in hopes that service would be restored, the Associated Press reports.  

“There are people who can’t cook, can’t clean; people coming off surgery who can’t wash. This is an affront to human dignity,” community leader Charity Hicks told The Guardian.

The news site notes that households with children and no running water run the risk of having their children taken from the homes by welfare authorities.

The DWSD says that residents of Detroit are responding to bogus information. According to DWSD Director Sue McCormick, who spoke with My Fox Detroit, the water department is working closely with its delinquent customers to prevent water shutoffs and notes that some 17,000 customers are enrolled in payment programs tailored to their income.