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ACLU calls on Saginaw to adopt affordable water plan instead of shutting people's water off

Serenity Mitchell

The City of Saginaw is delaying the resumption of its water shutoff program, which had been suspended during the pandemic.

Water shutoffs due to unpaid bills had been scheduled to begin Wednesday this week, but a spokeswoman for the city says the delay will allow people more time to gather documentation, so they can apply for help from local non-profit agencies.

That's only a short-term fix, says Bonsitu Kitaba, Deputy Legal Director with the ACLU of Michigan.

She says many low income Saginaw residents simply can't afford the cost of their city's water service.

And it's not just a problem that affects Saginaw, Kitaba says. Detroit, Flint, Muskegon - and many other cities with high populations of black, low income residents - are charging more for water than many of their residents can afford to pay.

"It's almost absurd," says Kitaba. "In the cities that are struggling the most, we're asking them to then bear the burden of paying high rates. While we live in a state that is surrounded by the Great Lakes, where all of us should have access to clean, running water at an affordable rate."

Kitaba says there is a better solution, one that's being used successfully in Baltimore and a few other cities across the nation. That's a water affordability plan, which indexes water rates based on income.  

City spokeswoman Vicki Davis says that idea was discussed in the last city council meeting.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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