Imagine Michigan Household Faucets Never Running Dry

Imagine our community water systems providing sustainable and continuous access to affordable and clean drinking water for their service area population. We will examine institutions, rules, and processes that govern community drinking water systems.

Faucet with running water.

In this blog, we are doing a series of posts that examine institutions, rules, and processes governing community drinking water systems. We will explore a variety of issues such as sanitation and housing codes, water utility accounting and finance, water access, water affordability, infrastructure, and economies of scale. Our focus is on Michigan statutes, rules, and codes. Issues that these themes bring to our attention may draw on national and international alternative systems and approaches.

The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the voices of the many water security advocates and water warriors. Elected officials in all levels of government, water utility providers, and water secure households have been reminded that sustained water access serves the important public purpose of protecting public health. Many governors, including Michigan Governor Whitmer, issued executive orders requiring community water utilities to restore water service to occupied residences that previously had water service disconnected due to nonpayment. Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-28 “to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, protect the public health, and avoid needless deaths.”  The order emphasizes how all Michiganders need to remain in their residences as much as possible and to wash their hands as thoroughly and regularly as possible. “Now more than ever, the provision of clean water to residences is essential to human health and hygiene, and to the public health and safety of this state.” This statement captures the crucial role of universal access to potable water for the protection of public health. It also identifies the vicious dynamic of loss of residency that people experience due to water termination policies.

Now that we are collectively awakened to our interconnectedness via water, we are required to examine our habit of treating water as a private economic commodity as opposed to a community and personal health necessity. We must ask ourselves to imagine how our community water systems could provide sustainable access to affordable and clean drinking water for their service area population.

catdrinkfaucet_TeresaBoardman
Teresa Boardman, photographer

Michigan mayors are listening. Flint’s mayor has declared water a human right. Detroit’s mayor has extended the moratorium on residential water shutoffs through 2022 and says the city is working on a plan that will end shutoffs permanently. That said, these cities and other localities cannot go at it alone. Institutional changes aimed at these goals can only truly take place with the cooperation and support from the state, communities served by the Great Lakes Water Authority, as well as other community water systems.

Eventually, we will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. But will more households become water insecure because of the pandemic-induced recession? It may be consoling to think that we can wait it out and these problems will resolve themselves once the recession ends; but water insecurity did not begin with the spread of COVID-19 and it will not end when we emerge from this pandemic and recession.

These problems have systemic consequences for the entire community water system service area and not just households whose water burdens are too great. The entire system is put at financial risk when water revenues can’t keep pace with its needed operations and maintenance expenses, debt, and infrastructure replacement expenditures. Michigan is water endowed. Michigan’s community water systems are abundant. Now is the time to ensure all household faucets will not run dry.

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