Water insecurity, broadly understood to be a lack of physical access to safe, reliable, sufficient, and affordable drinking water and sanitation services, is a pervasive, but frequently hidden issue. In 2014, the UN declared water shutoffs in the City of Detroit a violation of basic human rights. From rising water bills that force families to prioritize water over food and medicine, to water shutoffs that completely disrupt service to people's homes, many Detroit-area residents lack support or assistance - in other words, a basic safety net - to maintain access to this human right.
This research employed quantitative and qualitative research methods to explore the impacts of water insecurity and the lack of a water safety net. We surveyed nearly 400 residents of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties in Michigan to gain a broad and diverse understanding of water insecurity. We also conducted expert interviews with practitioners and advocates in the areas of politics and policy, law physical and mental health, social services, finance, utility, and academics.
Our findings show that unaffordable water bills lead residents to make behavior changes that negatively impact nearly every other aspect of their lives. In light of these findings, we have developed a framework for realizing water security and affordability for low-income residents in Southeast Michigan with applicability in other geographies and income brackets.