Detroiters’ Fight for Affordable Water Access Has Lessons for America’s Future

An article entitled “Detroiters’ Fight for Affordable Water Access Has Lessons for America’s Future” by our own Monica Lewis Patrick has been published in the April 2017 issue of River Voices: Water Equity and Civic Engagement. Read our article and download the full issue of River Voices here. The article begins on page 7.

Monica Lewis-Patrick and other water warriors and volunteers, wearing bright yellow reflective vests and surrounding a table full of clipboards, canvassing on the streets of Detroit.

About this River Voices issue:
“We believe that access to affordable clean water and healthy rivers is a fundamental human right. Like other human rights, we must be prepared to assert and defend this right. By listening, we can hear the concerns of the communities we are part of; and by working together, we can influence elected officials and resource managers to address these disparities. The articles in this issue of River Voices provide examples of places where access to affordable clean water is not equal, and how civic engagement is making a difference. These articles underscore the variety of ways to become involved, including seeking public office. We hope that this issue sparks your curiosity and encourages you to continue exploring. Water is life.”

Quests for Justice and Mechanisms of Suppression in Flint, Michigan

Rebecca L. Rutt and Jevgeniy Bluwstein have published a research paper entitled “Quests for Justice and Mechanisms of Suppression in Flint, Michigan”. The abstract is below. READ FULL PAPER

“There is widespread acknowledgment of the crisis nature and injustices around water quality and access in Flint since mid-2014. This crisis led to different forms of grassroots activism demanding political accountability, transparency, and redress. However, residents’ experiences and their needs and demands in response to the crisis have been largely ignored. This article explores the mechanisms of suppression at work in obscuring these needs and demands. Specifically, it sheds light on the role of the public sector, the media, and the academic institutions in reproducing these mechanisms of suppression. The article situates the struggles over political accountability within the neoliberalization of public administration and government through emergency management. Capital accumulation can continue and intensifies, whereas emergency management further contributes to suppressing public dissent in the times of crisis via the erosion of political accountability. By illuminating institutionalized mechanisms of suppression of residents’ needs and demands, we argue that the Flint water crisis should also be seen as a crisis of government, journalism, and academia.”


Water Testing Project with MSU

Flyer with an illustration of four children at a lemonade stand with no water and a banner saying "what happened to the water". Details about the water testing project, including a $100 stipend, promise of confidentiality, and number to call to see if you qualify: 1-844-42WATER

“We the People of Detroit’s work has four focus areas: water testing, story-telling and videography, door-to-door research, and mapping. The MSU team is collaborating with the collective to implement the water testing piece, looking at it from two angles: (1) How does water affordability affect water quality? and (2) How do communities use data and research to promote their own public health or political objectives?

The two-year project has two phases. The first phase involved creating a Community Advisory Board, made up of residents of Detroit, including members of We the People of Detroit. Then the MSU team worked with the Community Advisory Board to design the project, sampling strategy, and survey.

The next phase will involve sampling residents’ water for substances such as heavy metals, microorganisms, and disinfection by-products. To preserve anonymity, the MSU team does not go into the homes themselves to take the samples. “We’re working with the Community Advisory Board to train field workers to help the residents take their own samples and do some preliminary analysis in their households,” said Mitchell. This process also works towards a true citizen science approach. “Community members, via the Community Advisory Board, are engaged in the entire process. So even with developing the training protocols and what things we’re going to sample with, all of that is being developed with our community partners.””


Water Shutoffs Impact Public Health: a collaborative study with Henry Ford Health System

View/download fact sheet
View/download full research paper

“A new study by We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective and Henry Ford Health System shows a correlation between water shutoffs and water-related illnesses.

1. Patients admitted to Henry Ford Hospital with water-related illnesses were significantly
more likely to live on a block that has experienced water shutoffs. Patients diagnosed with skin
and soft tissue diseases were 1.48 times more likely to live on a block that has experienced
water shutoffs.

2. Living on a block that has experienced water shutoffs increases the likelihood that the
patient will be diagnosed with a water-related illness.

3. Patients who are most likely to experience water-related illnesses resulting from water
shutoffs are also the most socially vulnerable, according to the Center for Disease Control’s
‘Social Vulnerability Index.’

What should happen next?
1. The City of Detroit must institute an immediate moratorium on all water shutoffs.

2. The City of Detroit must institute a water affordability plan based on a resident’s ability to pay.

3. The City of Detroit must release water shutoff data necessary to complete a more thorough study of the impact of water shutoffs on public health, with an analysis as to how these conditions further contribute to racial health inequities.

How can I protect my family from these water-related illnesses?
1. Use bottled water for drinking or try to get water from a neighbor, ESPECIALLY for vulnerable populations.

2. Be careful not to reach hands into an open source (bucket/jug) of water. This can contaminate the water.

3. If the toilet cannot be flushed and human waste is sitting in it, periodically pour a bucket of water directly into the bowl to manually flush it; gravity will do the trick and send it to the sewer.

4. You can use rubbing alcohol to clean hands and wounds as much as possible. Consider asking neighbors or friends to come use their shower to bathe yourself and your family.

5. Once your water is reconnected, let it run for a little while (at least 5 minutes) before you drink it. This can help discharge any contaminants that might have settled in the pipes while it was shut off.

My water is shut off or at risk of being shut off. What should I do?
Call We the People of Detroit’s water rights hotline at 1-844-42WATER (1-844-429-2837). Our volunteers can assist Detroiters with locating emergency water and making payment arrangements with DWSD. We can also assist with finding and navigating the various water resources that are currently available.”