Over the weekend, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order suspending water shutoffs for customers delinquent on bills and directing municipalities to restore service to those who already had it shut off. The order also created the Water Restart Grant Program, which will disperse $2 million to help communities comply.
“This is a critical step both for the health of families living without a reliable water source, and for slowing the spread of the coronavirus,” Whitmer said in a release.
The order requires public water suppliers to make “best efforts” to determine which occupied residences lack running water and get it turned back on. It will stay in effect for the duration of the State of Emergency in Michigan.
Grants will be dispersed through Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The department will reimburse municipalities up to $5,000 per residence, which includes line replacement when necessary.
In recent days, as the number of cases rapidly grows, Detroit has been identified as a “hot spot” for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Its combination of poverty and high rate of residents with asthma make it a particularly vulnerable site.
Regular hand washing is one of the most reliable ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But thousands of Detroiters have had their service suspended because of lack of payment, making basic hygiene a challenge.
Prior to COVID-19 being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said that a moratorium on shutoffs would be inadvisable because it could encourage nonpayment. Whitmer’s office also said that lack of running water did not constitute a “public health emergency.”
But earlier in March, Duggan suspended water shutoffs in the city and began restoring service—one of the few municipalities to take on the latter task. The Associated Press reported that as of last week more than 840 homes had running water again, with another 190 work orders pending.