Last update:

Water Rights and Access in Detroit's Urban Areas, USA


On July 10, 2014, 8 people were arrested during a protest at the gates of Homrich Inc, the company that facilitates the controversial program in Detroit to shut off water service for nonpayment.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Water Rights and Access in Detroit's Urban Areas, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Michigan
Location of conflict:Detroit
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Detroit's water system serves about 700,000 city residents and 4 million people in southeastern Michigan, but the city-owned water system has about $6 billion in debt that's covered by bill payments. As of July 1, more than $89 million was owed on nearly 92,000 past-due residential and commercial accounts [6].

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Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:120,000- 300,000
Start of the conflict:03/01/2014
Company names or state enterprises:Homrich from United States of America - Facilitates Detroit's controversial program to shut off water service for nonpayment
Relevant government actors:Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Detroit City Council,
International and Finance InstitutionsUnited Nations Human Rights Council (UN) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Detroit Water Brigade, Detroit Water Warriers, Call'em Out Coalition, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, People's Water Board, Go Detroit
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsHealth impacts resulting from limited or no access to clean water. Affecting poor families with limited health care.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:There are no alternatives to this conflict, simply just a call by activists to have their water turned back on and in public hands with participation mechanisms of all citizens and for all customers (residential and commercial) to be treated alike.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:This is an ongoing case so it is difficult to judge at this point if environmental justice has been served. Positive changes are being made but there are still many without water and there is still a discrepancy in that commercial customers have not had their water shut-off for lack of paying their bills.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[7] UN resolution on human right to water
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Water War Heats Up- by the Michigan Citizen [2]
[click to view]

Detroit News: Detroit Water Shutoffs Spark War of Words [4]
[click to view]

Clergy members among those arrested in Detroit water shutoff protest [1]
[click to view]

DWSD Press Release July 22, 2014: Water Affordability Fair to be held in August [9]
[click to view]

Apartheid Detroit Water Corporations, Not People [3]
[click to view]

Detroit denies pause in water shutoffs due to protests, U.N.- July 21,2014 [5]
[click to view]

Detroit Shuts Off Water to Residents but Not to Businesses Who Owe Millions [10]
[click to view]

Detroit water department placed in mayor’s hands July 29, 2014 [6]
[click to view]

Thousands go without water as Detroit cuts service for nonpayment [11]
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Detroit People's Water Board website
[click to view]

[click to view]

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department
[click to view]

Detroit Water Department Placed in Mayor's Hands (ABC News)
[click to view]

Borrowing Trouble: Water Privatization Is a False Solution for Municipal Budget Shortfalls [8]
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Detroit police arrested 8 people, including several clergy members, during a protest of city water shutoffs the morning of July 10, 2014
[click to view]

When the Water Runs Dry: Voices from the Detroit Water Crisis - Sept 11, 2014
[click to view]

Other comments:This is an ongoing case and has updates nearly every day. It is likely that the conflict will be resolved soon so what I have described may not be the most up-to-date account.
Meta information
Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected]; University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update10/06/2015
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