MACEJ urges pause on water shutoffs

This week, members of Michigan’s Advisory Council for Environmental Justice (MACEJ) called on Governor Whitmer to take more aggressive action to ensure that all Michiganders have water during the COVID19 pandemic. The creation of the MACEJ, the first environmental justice advisory council in state history, came out of recommendations made to former Governor Snyder in the aftermath of the Flint water crisis. The members of the council, appointed under the Direction of Governor Whitmer in January, are now highlighting the need for her administration to move swiftly to ensure that all residents have water during a global pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic shows us that all of us are at risk when we don’t provide basic public health protections like safe running water for everyone.

“Given the urgency of the crisis that we face today and the potential for repeating mistakes of the past, we’re asking for immediate action to ensure that all Michiganders have access to clean water during this global pandemic,” said Justin Onwenu, a member of the Council and Environmental Justice Organizer for the Sierra Club. “We’re constantly being told that handwashing is the first line of defense against COVID-19. But you can’t wash your hands if you don’t have water.”

While the City of Detroit declared a moratorium on shutoffs in response to concerns about COVID-19, the turn ons have not been moving with urgency.

“Although the City of Detroit declared a temporary moratorium on water shutoffs the city is not moving fast enough. Thousands of Detroiters don’t have water and we fear what will happen without the direct intervention of the Governor,” said Monica Lewis Patrick, a member of the council and CEO of We the People of Detroit.

Although some cities in Michigan have declared that they will no longer shut water off, there hasn’t been a statewide policy issued by the Governor on the matter.

“Many communities are still struggling with lack of access to water, residents are being left in the dark and they’re scared. Without a statewide order, it’s impossible to ensure that the thousands of water systems are all providing this essential service to all their residents, which is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Nicholas Leonard, a member of the council and Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. “We need a clear, uniform directive that all residents need to have running water, and we need Governor Whitmer to issue a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs.”

Approximately 20 other states have already issued orders to ensure that their residents have running water. Members of the Council are asking that Governor Whitmer follow suit. Without running water, residents will be forced to go to overcrowded and understocked grocery stores to search for water, and will be unable to wash their hands.

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