News Feature | August 19, 2014

Detroit Residents Not The Only Ones To Face Shutoffs

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Detroit garnered a torrent of criticism this year when it shut off water service to delinquent customers, but it is hardly the first city to take this approach. 

"In Michigan, Hamtramck, Warren, Pontiac, Eastpointe, Romulus and other cities have shut off delinquent customers as a way to improve collections. Elsewhere, so have other big cities such as Baltimore and St. Louis," the Detroit Free Press reported

The city of St. Louis Water Division says shutoffs are unavoidable if customers do not pay: "We give you every opportunity to settle your account. We do not like to shut off service to our customers, but if your account remains unpaid, we will have no other alternative."

Shutoff policies vary from city to city. Baltimore altered its water shutoff policy two years ago. 

The city "changed the criteria that would trigger water shut-offs and tax liens against delinquent customers. Under the previous policy, the city would pursue a tax lien before unpaid water bills reached a level that triggered shutting off the water. City officials hope that by shutting off the water first, residents will pay their bills and be able to keep their homes," the Baltimore Sun reported.

Tom Curtis, an official at the American Water Works Association, explained the rationale for shutoffs. 

"It's universal in the utility world that at some point, you have to shut off service as part of your larger commitment to the community," he said to the Detroit Free Press. "If you never shut the water off for anybody, those people who continue to pay have to shoulder the entire cost of a system that is servicing a lot of customers that aren't paying. That's not a sustainable business model."

Detroit initially focused on customers with large debts. The policy sparked local protests and criticism from United Nations experts.

"The Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage announced in March it would target Detroit households with overdue balances of more than $150, or more than two months behind on bills. Since spring it has shut off water to more than 15,000 homes. The water department has released a list of more than 200 businesses that could have water shut off for late payments," the Detroit News reported

For more on policy and politics, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "Mounting bills Project 365(2) Day 142," Keith Williamson © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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