On Saturday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order requiring the reconnection of water service to all Michigan residences that have had water services shut off. The order establishes a $2 million Water Restart Grant Program to help communities comply.
The order comes as Detroit has emerged as a hotspot for COVID-19, and it follows a move earlier this month by Detroit officials to restore water service to all residents for a $25 fee and a $25 monthly payment until the outbreak has passed.
University of Michigan experts are available to discuss this issue.
Paul Mohai is a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability and one of the founders of the U.S. environmental justice movement. Along with SEAS faculty member Tony Reames and SEAS student John Petosky, Mohai serves on the inaugural Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, which advises the governor on environmental issues impacting low-income households and people of color.
Last week Whitmer issued her executive order, members of the council including Mohai, Reames and Petoskey sent a letter to the governor urging quick action on water reconnections statewide.
"The biggest concern the environmental justice community has about the coronavirus at this time is water shutoffs, since it’s important for people to be able to wash their hands to protect themselves from the virus,” Mohai said.
Tony Reames is an assistant professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, director of U-M’s Urban Energy Justice Lab, and a member of the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice. He studies energy justice and is currently exploring disparities in residential energy generation, consumption and affordability, with a focus on the production and persistence of inequality by race, class and place.
"It is important that water utilities work closely with community organizations that have been supplying water to disconnected residents for some time, in order to ensure adequate identification of those who need services restored,” Reames said.
A 2017 Urban Energy Justice Lab study of water insecurity in southeast Michigan households found that 84% of low-income residents reported cutting back on monthly expenses to ensure they could make payments on their water and sewer bill. The foregone expenses include housing, medicine and medical/dental care, transportation, fresh fruits and vegetables, and school supplies.