DETROIT – A caravan of Canadians bringing jugs with 1,000 litres of water arrived in Detroit on Thursday afternoon in a symbolic protest against the bankrupt city shutting off water to residents who haven’t paid their bills.
Eleven vehicles passed through the Detroit Windsor Tunnel under the Detroit River. The Canadians rallied outside City Hall before heading for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to deliver the water.
The water will be stored behind the church’s sanctuary for people needing water after city shutoffs, said the Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman.
Once the Canadian water is all distributed, “we’ll be filling gallon jugs from our tap,” he said.
Wylie-Kellerman said his church will be a water station and said there will be several more like it in the city.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has stepped up collection efforts for residential and business water service, and water shutoffs rose from 500 in March to 7,200 in June. People lose water if they’re more than 60 days behind or owe $150. The average overdue bill is $540.
Through June, more than 90,000 residential and business customers owed nearly $90 million.
The city suspended shutoffs Monday for 15 days to allow more time to educate customers on payment plans to catch up on their bills.
Human rights groups have appealed the shutoffs to the United Nations, and the judge in Detroit’s bankruptcy case said the shutoffs were hurting the city’s image.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Unitarian Universalist Service Committee delivered national petitions opposing the shutoffs to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, emergency manager Kevyn Orr and the water department’s executive director.
“Thousands of people … are being forced out of water,” said Patricia Jones, the international human rights organization’s senior program leader for the human right to water. “No provisions are being made for families with children, elders, persons with disabilities.”
Others also have weighed in.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People condemned the shutoffs in a resolution passed this week at the organization’s annual convention in Las Vegas.
Even an animal rights group is stepping up — conditionally. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered Thursday to pay outstanding water bills for 10 city residents if they agree to go vegan for one month.