Michigan Must Restore Water to All Homes During COVID-19 Crisis

As people are being urged to practice “social distancing” in their homes, it is imperative that states stop water shutoffs and reconnect water services to all homes in a safe and timely manner.

A contract worker delivers a notice by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department on March 13, 2020 to inform residents on how to restore water service in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Detroit.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters

During this COVID-19 crisis, experts are urging people to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds because it is the best way to protect yourself from catching or transmitting the virus. Unfortunately, there are many people in Michigan who are unable to do this because their water has been shut off and they do not have access to running water.

At a time when “social distancing” is becoming increasingly mandatory and people are forced to stay in their homes, it is imperative that Michigan (and every state) stop water shutoffs and reconnect water services to all homes in a safe and timely manner. It is the single-most important step Michigan can do to protect its residents and slow the spread of the pandemic.

On Wednesday March 17, the Natural Resources Defense Council joined with local partners to file a Request for Declaratory Ruling with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), asking the agency and Governor Gretchen Whitmer to take swift, meaningful action to protect the health and well-being of all Michigan residents. The Request for Declaratory Ruling asks to mandate for the entire duration of the COVID-19 pandemic both a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs and the immediate restoration to homes of water services that were previously shut off.

The Request for Declaratory Ruling asks for the following directives:

  • All public water systems in Michigan to immediately begin supplying water to any and all households that have previously had their water service terminated for any reason.
  • For any customer that has been disconnected from water service at any time or is currently delinquent regarding any water or sewerage bill, require any and all public water systems to provide water service at a flat rate no greater than $25 per month for as long as COVID-19 is classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Public water systems shall not assess or collect any deferred payments for water service provided to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic who are eligible for a reduced pandemic rate.
  • Prohibit all public water systems from terminating water service to any households for as long as COVID-19 is classified as a pandemic by WHO.
  • Upon the reconnection of water to a household that was previously shut off, require the public water system to ensure that the water being provided is compliant with state drinking water standards.

Michigan has been a national leader in handling the COVID-19 crisis, having been one of the earlier states to declare a state of emergency and to begin taking the steps necessary to stop the spread of the virus in the midst of federal inaction. Notably, the state worked with the city of Detroit to create a Coronavirus Water Restart Plan. While this was a good and necessary step in protecting Michigan’s largest and often hardest-hit city, we realize that these protections must be extended to all Michiganders during these trying times.

About the Authors

Jeremy Orr

Staff Attorney, Safe Water Initiative

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