Stallworth: End Detroit water shutoffs until service can be restored faster

Jul 3, 2014 at 4:19 pm
Thomas Stallworth III (D-Detroit) The Detroit Water  & Sewerage Department should halt water shutoffs on delinquent customers until the utility can restore service in a timely fashion, state Rep. Thomas Stallworth III (D-Detroit) said today. “Families are being told that after they have paid their water bill they will have to wait two to three days before water service is restored, and that they must be available over a 24-hour period to meet the water department crew," Stallworth said in a statement. "A working parent can’t afford to take a day off work to meet the water crew. The water department is playing hardball and refusing to work with people who are trying to pay their bills and get their service restored, and that is unacceptable and unnecessary.” DWSD announced in March it would begin shutting off water to upwards of 80,000 Detroit households with $150 outstanding fees or are 60 days past-due. More than 7,000 residential and commercial accounts lost in April and May, of which 60 percent were restored within 24 hours, according to DWSD. Forty percent of those remaining customers paid their late fees within the next 24 hours, a spokesperson said this week, meaning roughly 15 percent remained without service. Customers receive a shutoff notice, and then have 10 days to either pay the outstanding fees or enter into a payment plan. When they call to try to handle their bill, though, some wait as much as three days for a response, which Stallworth called "unacceptable" today.

The initiative drew the attention of three local groups -- Blue Planet Project, Food & Water Watch, Detroit People's Water Board and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization -- who last month called on the UN to intervene and halt the shutoffs.

In an eight-page report submitted to the UN, the groups called the utility's plan a "violation of the human right to water and sanitation in the city of Detroit." Three UN experts agreed in statements the following week.

“Shutting off water to thousands of customers in the middle of summer without being able to promptly handle calls and restore service is an injustice to our community,” Stallworth said. “I can understand that past due bills have to be paid, but the water department should have a streamlined process in place so that once a bill is paid, the water is turned back on quickly. A home without water service is dangerous for a family because food spoils and sanitary conditions deteriorate, and when this happens in the hot summer months, it’s even worse. The department needs to act quicker to restore water service before we end up with a public health emergency in the city.”

Stallworth suggested the Michigan Public Service Commission should oversee water services to prevent further incidents.

“I am going to work hard to convince my legislative colleagues that water services should fall under MPSC oversight, which would protect consumers from unfair shut-off practices, unreasonable rate increases and poor customer service practices,” Stallworth said. “Just because you might be behind on your water bill does not mean you should be treated poorly and forced to endure a lengthy waiting period when you do settle up for water service to be restored. The water department announced recently that they had more crews to do shut-offs. Now they need to find more crews to restore service just as quickly as it was shut off.”