by Shea Howell

May 23, 2015

Members of the People’s Water Board resigned this week from the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to protest the Authority’s refusal to discuss a Water Affordability Plan. Activists worked with the emerging regional water authority for several months. The PWB tried to help the GLWA understand the reality facing many families in Southeast Michigan as water bills soar and incomes shrink.

As volunteer members of the Water Residential Assistance Program Working Group, members of the PWB provided information on affordability plans developed for Detroit as best practices around the country. They raised concerns about the impact of shutoffs on families and neighborhoods and stressed the public health consequences if significant numbers in our city can no longer count on clean water.

The GLWA repeatedly refused to allow discussion of the differences between assistance and a true affordability plan. In spite of the wide spread recognition that assistance plans are reactive and incapable of meeting the needs of people, the Authority blocked discussion at every turn. The Authority refused to include a report on affordability in its final documents.

“[The Great Lakes Water Authority] kept telling us, well you know what, in the memorandum of understanding that was signed between the city of Detroit, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, this isn’t something we can do. We were told to just develop an assistance program,” said Sylvia Orduno of the People’s Water Board.

“What the GLWA and the Mayor propose is more short term assistance to families in danger of having their water shutoff. If assistance worked the DWSD wouldn’t be handing out water shut off notices to tens of thousands across Detroit, “ said Orduno. “The solution to the crisis can’t be to once again start cutting tens of thousands of families off from the water they need to live. The solution can’t be to increase the water shutoffs contract to Homrich Wrecking by $1million so they can shut off more than 800 families a day. People with low incomes need to be able to pay based on income. They could use the Water Affordability Plan to do that. It’s a win-win. Families have the water they need to survive and the revenue continues to flow to the water system.”

Members of the People’s Water Board announced their decision at a press conference in front of the Spirit of Detroit to draw attention to the actions of the closed door discussions. They were joined by the Sierra Club, Michigan Welfare Rights, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management and the People’s Platform.
The PWB Coalition is intensifying efforts to push for an affordability plan. Such a plan will benefit the entire region, ensuring water for everyone and enough capital to operate the system.

On May 29-31 the group is hosting an international legal and legislative summit on water affordability. This will include a strategy session by water and human rights activists from around the country and the globe.

On June 3 State Representatives Stephanie Chang of Detroit and Sheldon Neely of Flint will jointly sponsor legislative hearings on Water Affordability in Lansing at 10:30 am. They deserve our support.

We are at a critical moment when the choices we make will influence water polices here and around the country. It is our responsibility to ensure that emerging polices reflect wisdom, compassion and water for all.

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