Water shutoff moratorium bill must pass to protect public health, say 16 orgs
A 16-member assembly of water rights, social justice and environmental organizations and impacted Michigan residents urged Michigan’s Senators to take up and pass, as soon as possible, a bill that would protect public health by ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all during a global pandemic.
A substitute version of Senate Bill 241, introduced by Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) would require water utilities to turn water service back on to all customers and place a moratorium on residential drinking and sanitary water shutoffs until Jan. 1, 2021.
The bill would fill the public health protection void left when the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated a water restoration requirement enacted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in March through executive order. As of yesterday, all other pandemic-related orders enacted via the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act from 1945 are no longer in effect, leaving a patchwork of inadequate local policies.
That makes quickly passing Sen. Chang’s bill vital for protecting Michiganders’ health during a pandemic, said coalition members. Many members, most notably community groups, have long fought for just, affordable residential water and sanitation protections in communities and at the Capitol.
"Since 2017, People's Water Board Coalition has co-drafted bills to address the challenges of clean water and sanitation affordability and access for low-income families like mine," says Nicole Hill, mother, Detroit resident and coordinator of People’s Water Board Coalition. “We believe Gov. Whitmer has done an excellent job to protect the health and safety of Michigan residents, especially babies, children, seniors, people with disabilities and those with chronic illness. We strongly encourage our Legislature to do the same.”
“As we head into flu season while fighting COVID-19, the CDC recommends frequent hand-washing as the best way to prevent the spread of illness,” said Monica Lewis-Patrick, President and CEO of We the People of Detroit. “With so many children learning remotely, it’s more critical than ever we ensure all families have access to running water in their homes. This is vital for good individual and public health, and it’s also good for getting Michiganders back to business in our state!"
“Affordable, clean water is an issue that unites all of Michigan, from cities to suburbs to rural areas like mine,” said Anthony Spaniola, a PFAS-impacted citizen and community leader from Oscoda. “We need our legislators from both parties and all regions to come together now to act on this important issue without delay or hesitation.”
The assembly also submitted a letter to Michigan Senators Monday in support of the bill. Attached was a listing of households receiving water utility assistance during the pandemic organized by Senate district and created by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“This is not just a single-city issue; this is an issue across the state, from city centers to suburbs to small towns and villages,” said Charlotte Jameson, program director for drinking water, legislative affairs and energy for Michigan Environmental Council. “When water is shut off, not only can people not drink, bathe or wash their hands, they can be exposed to water contamination from corroded and damaged residential plumbing systems due to disuse.”
"We cannot afford to backslide on the progress made in protecting public health, getting our kids back in school buildings, and reopening Michigan's economy,” said Kristy Meyer, associate director at Freshwater Future. "The Legislature must swiftly pass substitute Senate Bill 241 to ensure all Michiganders have running tap water in their homes for bathing and washing hands during this public health pandemic."
"All Michiganders need access to clean water, said Alexis Blizman, policy director at the Ecology Center, "COVID-19 has highlighted this public health crisis in our state. We have to be able to wash our hands to prevent the spread of COVID-19, protect human lives and rebuild our economy. Low-income families and communities of color facing water shutoffs have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The legislature must immediately reinstate the Governor's water shutoff moratorium to protect Michigan's most vulnerable."
"Access to water is essential to human life and public health at any time, but even more so during a pandemic when washing our hands and bathing is critical to limiting spread and exposure to COVID-19,” said Christy McGillivray, legislative and political director of Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “That’s why it is of paramount importance for the legislature to take up Sen. Chang’s bill, which will protect Michigan's most vulnerable residents from having their water shut off."
"Michigan's water utilities exist to deliver safe, clean and affordable water for drinking, sanitation and health. These are the same uses that are protected under deeply rooted principles of the public trust doctrine,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW (For Love of Water). “To ease these burdens on residents, Michigan must provide equitable and reliable revenue sources to pay for public water systems while restoring water services to every Michigan household."
The pandemic has highlighted the deep connection between water and public health,” said Crystal Davis, vice president of policy & strategic engagement for Alliance for the Great Lakes. “It is unacceptable that Michiganders should ever be without clean, safe and affordable water. We applaud Sen. Chang’s leadership and strongly support Senate Bill 241.”
The following organizations are also part of the assembly supporting Sen. Chang’s water protection bill: Benton Harbor Community Water Council, Black Autonomy Network Community Organization, Michigan Welfare Rights Organizations, Natural Resources Defense Council, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.