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WASHINGTON. April 23, 2020 – An exposé of Detroit’s unequal application of its water shutoffs policy is strengthening the call for Congress to enact a national moratorium on water shutoffs. According to a Consumer Reports (CR) story published today, Detroit allows bottling companies Coke and Pepsi to amass tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid water bills but turns off water to homes in the city once residents fall behind $150.
Following are quotes from water activists in response to the situation and CR investigation:
“This highlights the outrageous unfairness of water shutoffs. If you’re a huge profitable corporation, you get months to pay your water bill, and can charge people for bottled water over 100 times than you’re billed for the tap water you’re using. If you’re a family having a hard time making ends meet, the city will sweep in and shut off your water quickly. We need a national moratorium on shutoffs and a requirement to reconnect residences due to the COVID crisis, so people have running water and utilities. And we need federal assistance to help low-income consumers afford their water and utility bills,” said Erik D. Olson, a senior strategic director with NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council).
“It’s no surprise for me, as a Detroit resident, that poor people are punished through water shut-offs, while corporations flourish off our greatest asset, clean drinking water. The city of Detroit and the entire state of Michigan have been giving away our fresh water to corporations like Coke, Pepsi, and Nestle for next to nothing, while those corporations make billions in profits every year. Yet Detroit imposes some of the highest water rates in the country on people who live in poverty. We have called on Michigan’s Governor Whitmer to issue a mandate guaranteeing water affordability, so people can have equal access to drinking water in their homes, regardless of their income,” said Nicole Hill, an advocate with the People’s Water Board of Detroit.
“Michigan is a prime example of the urgent need for water utility reform, including increased transparency and greater accountability to the community. NRDC stands with residents in Detroit, and across the state who support the adoption of income-based water rates and other equity measures to prevent water shut-offs in the future,” said Cyndi Roper, NRDC’s Michigan senior advocate.
Last month, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an order requiring occupied residences to be safely reconnected to water. It was estimated that 9,500 homes were without running water at that time.
The CR investigation of billing records and other documents obtained through public records requests found that since 2017, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi could have had their water disconnected under the terms for Detroit’s shutoff policy, which holds residents or businesses at risk of shutoffs if they are 60 days past due on their water bill, with a minimum balance of $150. The story notes:
“Between April and July 2017, billing records show, Coca-Cola had a $77,600 balance that went unpaid for three months. From August to November of that year, it carried a balance of as much as $287,250 before paying it off. From December 2017 to March 2018, the company had a balance that fluctuated between $1,860 to $108,170 before paying it off in full. Meanwhile, from December 2018 to February 2019, Pepsi had a balance between $1,410 and $29,710 until paying it off.”