Americans Demand that President Obama Intervene in Detroit Water Crisis

WASHINGTON – Representatives John Conyers and Shelia Jackson Lee joined progressive leaders from Daily Kos, Democracy for America, Food & Water Watch, People’s Water Board, RH Reality Check and Working Families Organization to deliver more than 150,000 petition signatures demanding that President Barack Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services intervene in the Detroit water crisis. Thousands of families have had their water service cut off by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, in violation of the internationally recognized human right to water.

Petition signers are calling on the federal government to declare a public health emergency in Detroit, and end the shutoffs, restoring service to thousands of families that have been denied safe, clean, affordable water by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The petition follows a letter Representative Conyers wrote to President Obama in June calling for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency, allowing the federal government to step in to provide support for residents who had their water shut off.

“When 45 percent of a city struggles to pay their water bills, it becomes clear that this is not just a problem with delinquent payment,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “It’s indicative of broader, systemic issues resulting from decades of policies that put profits before people. We urge the federal government to intervene on behalf of Detroit, to ensure that all residents there have unfettered access to safe, clean, affordable water.”

“In the twenty-first century–in the wealthiest nation on earth–no one should ever go without safe, clean water,” said Rep. John Conyers.

“Last month, I wrote to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to request the declaration of a public health emergency in the wake of Detroit’s draconian water shutoffs. Such a declaration would help to protect residents from the impacts of this cold hearted and counterproductive policy. I want to thank Food & Water Watch, Democracy for America, and the tens of thousands of Americans who signed petitions demanding an appropriate federal response to this urgent situation.

You don’t have to be a doctor to know that the human consequences of mass shut offs are unacceptable. Without water service, households cannot maintain basic hygiene practices: flushing toilets, bathing, or washing hands. A lack of adequate drinking water during the summer months can lead to heat stroke and other complications. Water is a human right and a basic public health necessity. Let’s continue to stand together to defend this vital public resource,” Conyers continued.

“We know that Child Protective Services can use water shutoffs as an excuse to remove children from their parents’ custody and that shutoff crews have turned off the water in households where they knew children were living,” said RH Reality Check Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson. “In a country where so many low-income and non-white families have had their children taken away for superficial reasons, it’s important to recognize that the human right to water is also tied up with the right to parent your own children. Even one family facing the tragedy of separation over this will be one family too many. This is unacceptable.”

“We know the Mayor’s been handed a hot mess,” said Tawana Petty of the People’s Water Board, following news that the nationwide and international focus on his inhumane water shutoff policy led Governor Rick Snyder’s appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to hand the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) back to elected Mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan. “However, we are clear that this is not a solution to the water crisis in Detroit. An immediate halt to water shutoffs, a rejection of any effort to privatize the water, restoration of all residents’ water currently shutoff and enforcement of the Peoples’ Water Affordability Plan is however, the solution to this crisis.”

“It’s absurd that, in the twenty-first century, we have to argue about whether or not Americans have the right to water,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director ofDemocracy for America, a national progressive political organization with one million members nationwide. “If the unelected officials running Detroit refuse to acknowledge the tremendous health risks they’re subjecting their citizens to by turning off their water, the White House and federal government have an obligation to take action,” Chamberlain continued.

“The people of Detroit have endured a lot these last few years, and adding water shutoffs to the list is beyond the pale of what we should accept as a society. Common decency and solidarity require that this most vital service – water itself – be maintained,” said Dan Cantor, national director of Working Families.

“We simply cannot allow hundreds of thousands of Americans to go without water–that is not only a major public health hazard, but a denial of the basic humanity of our fellow citizens,” said Chris Bowers, senior campaign director at Daily Kos. “The Obama administration needs to step in and prevent this from happening if the state of Michigan and Detroit’s unelected emergency manager will not.”

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is shutting off water at thousands of Detroit residences each week, even if their account debt was incurred by previous owners. That means families don’t have water to drink, wash their hands or flush their toilets in their own homes. Large corporate accounts, including the Ford Field football stadium, have far larger unpaid water bills but have not seen an interruption in their water service.

This is a clear violation of the human right to water, and without access to water, lack of sanitation poses serious health concerns.

The petition text is as follows:

Thousands of Detroit families don’t have running water in their homes. This is an embarrassment for our country, a violation of basic human rights, and a serious threat to public health. Please declare a public health emergency in Detroit, end the shutoffs, and turn the water back on.


Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.


Neil Sroka, Democracy for America,847.219.8491

Katherine Cirullo, Food & Water Watch,202.683.4914

Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, 202.683.4905