We Need Water Solutions, Not Water Shut-Offs

A Changing Climate Means A Changing Society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Supported By The Kresge Foundation And The JPB Foundation, Is Committed To A Greener, Fairer Future.​ This Post Was Originally Published April 29, 2017 in Detroit Free Press

Nearly 18,000 Detroit households face water shutoffs — joining thousands of their neighbors who struggle to live without running water.

Losing access to water takes a dreadful toll on health and human dignity. Researchers found that shutoffs in Detroit are linked to skin and gastrointestinal infections that are more typical in the developing world. When the taps run dry, children stay home because they are embarrassed to go to school unwashed. And parents lose their kids to foster care when homes without water are declared unfit for habitation.

Sadly, the people of Detroit are not alone. From Baltimore to California’s Central Valley, poverty and systemic racism combine with other structural problems to place safe water out of reach for many. The challenges are huge: Our nation’s water infrastructure is aging, and the cost of repairs could top $1 trillion in the next 20 years. Bills skyrocket as utilities raise rates to make up for declining federal investment. From lead-tainted water in older cities to fertilizer runoff in rural areas, contaminated water threatens health, while the regulations that protect water quality are under attack. And climate change brings new problems — from devastating droughts to supercharged storms — that affect water quantity and quality.

Of course, these burdens are not shared equitably. Whether it’s a rate hike or a water main break, low-income communities and communities of color get the worst of it. The rising cost of water crushes the lowest 20% of earners, who pay almost a fifth of their income to the water utility.

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