Michigan's Urban Water Crisis

by Chani The Hippie

Michigan is the "Great Lake State" known for its five freshwater lakes: Ontario, Erie, Huron, Superior, and Michigan. A state with such an abundance of water should never have any problem supplying its people with clean drinking water, but in cities like Detroit, Highland Park, and Flint there are a plethora of problems.

The city of Detroit has been shutting off water for citizens with overdue water bills since 2013. Many citizens who have gotten their water shut off cannot afford the water due to a lack of work, are on a fixed income because of things like disability, or have not received water bills in years. In the summer of 2015, thousands of shut off notices went to people across Detroit urging them to make payment plans. Without water these people cannot bathe, cook, wash their hands, or an array of other simple things we need to function in life.

In Highland Park many have faced shut off notices as well after not receiving bills for years, but their problem runs a little deeper than Detroit's. Highland Park was put on a backup water system by the state in 2012, but the city was said to be taken off the system in 2013. Well the city is still on that backup water system, experiencing low water pressure; since the recent warehouse fire they are also under a boil water advisory. Every time the state has been approached about this failing water system they have not replied.

Flint, MI is home to one of America's biggest crises right now because their water has been contaminated by corroding lead pipes since 2014. Up to 10 people have died from led poisoning related diseases, and thousands have experienced illness. The State of Michigan finally intervened in October 2015, but the damage is far worse than most anticipated. The city is under a national emergency and is receiving millions of dollars in aid relief.

The United States is a world power who often tells other countries how to treat their citizens, but in our mitten shaped backyard people are going without something as simple as water. Since the state of Michigan has been under the spotlight for its lack of action in Flint, they have proposed a plan to help get Highland Park off of the backup water system, but have yet to mention Detroit. Congress is investigating Flint and now the United Nations has been questioning if they should step in as well.

Detroit, Highland Park, and Flint are three of Michigan's biggest urban cities, with a large concentration of African-Americans and people living below the poverty line. These cities all have a common problem: the inability to give all of their citizens clean water. Water is one of the most essential parts of life. The most anyone has ever lived without water is 10 days. How can we expect people to live without it for an extended period of time?

It seems to many that the state of Michigan and its leaders have lost all care for citizens in urban areas by making water inaccessible.

But why?

Some claim environmental racism. Environmental racism as defined by USLegal.com is the "intentional or unintentional targeting of minority communities or the exclusion of minority groups from public and private boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies. It is the racial discrimination in the enactment or enforcement of any policy, practice, or regulation that negatively affects the environment of low-income and/or racially homogeneous communities at a disparate rate than affluent communities."

I have to agree that there is something quite odd about all three of these cities experiencing such detrimental problems with their water systems. It points to environmental racism used as a method of oppression. People are begging for clean water in America in 2016. Nothing about this problem screams mistake.

Michigan and United States leaders say they are working to fix the problem, but these are not the only cities in our country plagued with water problems and they will not be the last. The truth is that a combination of neglect and racism will continue to hurt and even kill people if we continue to allow things like this to go swept under the rug. Michigan's urban water crisis is not surprising; it is a reminder that this nation still has plenty of work to do when it comes to equality. If the water was undrinkable in an affluent neighborhood it would not have taken two years to make changes. Detroit, Highland Park, and Flint are only a piece in this fucked up pie.