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
NameWater Rights and Access in Detroit's Urban Areas, USA
CountryUnited States of America
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 CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsDetroit'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].

The average overdue water bill within the DWSD is $540 [5].

Detroit had staged a mass shutoff as a means of collecting past-due bills of as many as 3,000 households per month [5].

Water service has been restored to 43 percent of the shutoff customers after the past due bills were paid [5].

The federal EPA recommends that families spend no more than 2.5% of their pretax income on water and sewer service, however some Detroit residents have been paying more than 20% [11].
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population120,000- 300,000
Start Date03/01/2014
Company Names or State EnterprisesHomrich from United States of America - Facilitates Detroit's controversial program to shut off water service for nonpayment
Relevant government actorsDetroit Water and Sewerage Department, Detroit City Council,
International and Financial InstitutionsUnited Nations Human Rights Council (UN) from United States of America
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersDetroit Water Brigade, Detroit Water Warriers, Call'em Out Coalition, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, People's Water Board, Go Detroit
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
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
OtherHealth impacts resulting from limited or no access to clean water. Affecting poor families with limited health care.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesThere 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 as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Media Links

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 Documents

Water shut-off protests Protesters line the gates of the entrance to the Homrich facility, the company contracted to shut off water
[click to view]

Arrests during water shut-off protests Police seen carting off protestors
[click to view]

Charity Hicks Passed away July 9 after being in a coma since May 31 in a hospital in New York City after being assaulted by Homrich employee and then arrested by Detroit police.
[click to view]

Marchers protest on May 23 2014 outside Water Board building in Downtown Detroit
[click to view]

Protest 5/23/14 Marcher demands hit big businesses who haven’t paid their water bills first.
[click to view]

Arrested protesters from July 10 protest at Homrich facility Baxter Jones (seated) was the last person to block Homrich shutoff trucks before being forced out of their way, July 10. Here, he joins the arrestees outside the Detroit Detention Center. PHREDDY WISCHUSEN PHOTO
[click to view]

Other CommentsThis 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
ContributorBernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected]; University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update10/06/2015