Tag: Water is a human right.

Michigan Water Day resolution 2024

For the fourth year in a row, FLOW has helped author and worked towards a House of Representatives resolution declaring March 22 as Michigan Water Day, and resolving that water is a human right. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Rachel Hood (D-81) and co-sponsored by Betsy Coffia (D-103) and 22 additional House representatives.

Michigan Water Day coincides with the international World Water Day, an annual United Nations observance honoring the importance of freshwater.

Michigan House of Representatives Resolution:

Download the resolution text as PDF

Michigan state legislators introduce water affordability bills

In the wake of massive water service shut-offs in recent years affecting residents of Detroit and other communities, members of the Michigan Legislature are offering bills to make water rates affordable for all citizens.

“We are the Great Lakes State, surrounded by fresh water, but many Michiganders do not have the same access to water due to their financial situation,” said one of the bill sponsors, Senator Stephanie Chang of Detroit. “It should not matter how much money you have — every human being needs water to live.”

Chang noted that according to Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) data, over 317,000 Michiganders were behind on their water bills during the COVID-19 pandemic.  A 2022 study by the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan found that average inflation-adjusted water costs have roughly doubled for the state as a whole since 1980. Large urban areas such as Detroit and Flint have seen a much greater increase.

“The People’s Water Board Coalition overwhelmingly supports the monumental package of water affordability bills championed by Michigan State Senators Chang and Bayer,” said Sylvia Orduño of the Coalition, which consists of three dozen grassroots groups, NGOs, faith-based, social justice, and community-based organizations. “For many years our grassroots groups have labored to bring visibility and advocacy to the need for statewide water affordability that protects households and community water systems. These bills offer new support and safeguards for vulnerable residents who experience water insecurity in all corners of the state.”

The key bills include:

  • An affordability program. Senate Bill 549 and House Bill 5088 create a low-income water residential affordability program within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that water bills for low-income households do not exceed 3% of that household’s income, with tiers developed for lower thresholds based on percentage of the federal poverty limit. Water providers can opt to use the program developed by DHHS or administer their own program.
  • An affordability fund. Senate Bill 550 and House Bill 5089 create a statewide Low-Income Water Affordability Fund. The primary funding source would be a $2/meter monthly funding factor on water bills, and the fund would be allowed to take philanthropic donations. 
  • Shut-off protections. Senate Bill 551 and House Bill 5090 provide protection from water shut-offs for Michiganders whose health conditions require access to water. It requires that a water provider notify a customer who is facing shut-off at least four times through a mailing, door knock, phone call, and/or text message. It also protects a customer who is attempting to enroll in a water affordability plan or who makes a minimum good faith payment. 
  • The Human Right to Water Act. Senate Bill 25 establishes that each individual has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes. It requires all state agencies and departments to carry out all reasonable means to review, revise, adopt and establish policies and regulations, plus grant criteria for establishing water affordability as appropriate, and to the extent that such actions do not affect federal funding eligibility.

Securing Public Ownership of Our Water as a Human Right, Public Trust, and Defense against Privatization

By Liz Kirkwood

Water is life. It is the resource that not only keeps us alive, but also powers everything we do on this small blue planet. Living here in the Great Lakes, we are stewards of some 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water. It is an enormous gift and an enormous responsibility, particularly in the face of the global water crisis

Water access and equity issues are striking the poorest communities the hardest, leaving 2.2 billion people worldwide without access to water and 4.2 billion people without sanitation. The United Nations estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.  

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

Water insecurity and climate change, in turn, are fueling the increased economic value of water supplies, an alarming interest in the financialization and commodification of water, and accelerated privatization of public water infrastructure. 

For the first time ever, in December 2020, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) listed California water futures as an investment to be bought and sold like grain or oil. In 2021, a private equity hedge fund called Blue Triton purchased all of Nestlé’s U.S. water bottling operations except Perrier. These and other privatization efforts degrade the singular importance of water, risk what is essential to all life on this planet, and exacerbate growing global and regional inequities between rich and poor to access potable water supplies. 

To counter this privatization trend, the UN’s recent report titled, Risks and impacts of the commodification and financialization of water on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, recommended “that States take urgent legal measures to prevent water, as a public good, from being managed in the futures markets as a financial asset under the speculative logic that presides over these markets, thereby avoiding the risks of price volatility and speculative bubbles that threaten the human rights to drinking water and sanitation of those living in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems and the most vulnerable economies.” 

States and communities can accomplish this by resolutions, declarations, statutes and laws, or constitutional enactments or current ones, properly interpreted so that water remains in the public domain protected by public trust and commons principles.

In June 2021, the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) unanimously approved a resolution affirming water as a human right and expressing concern about the trend toward treating water as a commodity. The resolution also affirms that “the water of the Great Lakes … shall remain in the public trust for the people of the Great Lakes region.” Read FLOW’s coverage here.

This resolution promises to be a milestone in the looming controversy over the creation of water futures markets and to establish clear principles to guide public policy and investments in water system infrastructure priorities in communities across the Great Lakes Basin. The issue of ownership and sale of Great Lakes water is not on the horizon; it is already here at our doorstep.

FLOW seeks to promote and extend this affirmation in Michigan communities and others across the Great Lakes watershed. Traverse City, whose City Commission will consider the resolution at 7 p.m. on December 6,  has a unique opportunity and responsibility to join this movement to assure public ownership of water. The opportunity lies in securing newly available federal funding to beef up our public water infrastructure and to ensure clean drinking water, eliminate sewage overflows, protect shoreline and prevent beach closures as a result of E. coli contamination and other contaminants. The responsibility lies in demonstrating stewardship by avoiding the trap into which other communities have fallen by privatizing ownership of water services. This has led to dramatically higher water rates for customers and deteriorating maintenance of infrastructure. Keeping water public provides avenues for accountability and keeps decisions in our hands as residents and voters.

Now is the time to clearly articulate our community values and principles around protecting our water as a public commons as  we prepare to make long-term water infrastructure investments and build climate resilience in communities across the Great Lakes. 

Please Support Keeping Water Public in Traverse City
The Traverse City Commission will hold its regular meeting at 7 p.m. ET on Mon., December 6, 2021, at the Governmental Center, 400 Boardman Avenue, Traverse City, Mich.
New business on the agenda includes this resolution being advanced by FLOW: A Resolution Proclaiming Water and Sanitation as Basic Human Rights, and that Water Shall Remain in the Public Trust. Please plan to attend or, if you cannot, watch the livestream.