Tag: public access to water

Protecting citizen rights and access to water

In the state of Virginia, public water shutoffs for nonpayment of water bills are now prohibited during below-freezing or scorching temperatures and during public health crises, such as the COVID pandemic. Imagine if, here in Michigan, we take the four steps to finally pass a new law that addresses the whole problem. Let’s call it the Michigan Public Water Trust Act. The Act would provide these protections:

First, citizens have a right to drinking water for basic daily needs without regard to ability to pay; after that amount, everyone must pay a fair share-based quantity of use and are subject to shut off for nonpayment of the amount that exceeds daily needs.

Second, shutoffs are prohibited in an emergency due to below-freezing or above 90-degrees temperatures, a health crisis, or an emergency declared by the President of the U.S. or Governor.

Third, where the emergency disrupts or shuts down water supplies (e.g. Flint and Jackson due to lead exposure, flooding, Toledo due to toxic algae), a state or federal fund will supply public alternative water sources to those without adequate water.

Fourth, charge those corporations that sell public water a royalty of 25 cents per gallon for a license to withdraw public water, bottle it and sell it.

FLOW and Water For All in Michigan (WFAM) commissioned a study that found such a royalty would cost at most a nickel for a 16-ounce bottle. If the royalties were placed into a Public Water Trust Fund, they could generate $250 million or more a year. This would more than meet the cost of the new laws and remove the insult for those whose water is shut off and who are forced to pay exorbitant amounts for bottled water to meet basic needs. A dedicated emergency fund would be established to ensure those vulnerable communities had access to free bulk or bottled water.

If everyone is entitled to a basic daily minimum amount per household for free or at a very low, affordable rate, the right to drinking water would be honored, the basic minimum rate is non-discriminatory and ensures access to water. And allowing higher rates based on higher water use will encourage conservation and offset the cost of providing the basic minimum daily amount.

Additionally, such a law will diminish the burden placed on cities, townships, and villages caused by the country’s shift from municipal grants to loans since 1988. This shift put almost 100 percent of the cost of public water services on the backs of municipalities and their ratepayer residents. This new law would remove this impossible burden. Santa Fe, New Mexico did something similar. It works. This will also protect citizens, water, and public water utilities from the increasing costs of water infrastructure, which will only worsen due to deterioration and climate disruption.

Let’s do it here in Michigan and in the heart of the freshwater Great Lakes region. Let’s lead, not follow.