By: Julia Finney, Policy Fellow
During this current public health crisis, the last thing people should need to worry about is access to clean water. Access to water ensures that people can wash their hands, which we know is extremely critical in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as the ability to clean other commonly used surfaces. Access and use of water can also reduce the consumption of single use plastic such as plastic water bottles or single use cleaning wipes. In place of single use plastic and cleaning supplies, access to water can greatly reduce the risk and spread of coronavirus and reduce plastic pollution in the Bay Area.
Due to current and expected record-high unemployment rates, access to necessary utilities, such as water, is at risk due to the inability of residents to pay their bills in a timely manner. In response to these unprecedented economic conditions, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order placing a moratorium on water and other utility shut-offs, and mandated reconnection of water to those who had their water shut off any time after March 4th for lack of payment.
Save the Bay applauds this move by Governor Newsom, which recognizes water as a human right, especially during times of crisis. However, many Bay Area and California residents who had their water shut off prior to March 4th are still living without water. Additionally, our unhoused residents are a particularly vulnerable population that has very infrequent access to clean water. California has a long way to go toward fully granting this universal right.
Some cities have gone farther to address water access at this critical time. The City of Detroit took immediate action to ensure and restore access to residents before COVID-19 had fully emerged in the city. Between March 9th and April 9th, residents without water – regardless of when their water was shut off – could make an appointment for necessary repairs to their pipes and to have their water restored, and the State of Michigan would foot the bill. Those at risk of having their water shut off would not experience interruptions during that time. After April 9th, customers would be charged only $25 per month for water service through the end of the COVID-19 crisis.
More needs to be done to ensure the basic human right of access to clean water is fulfilled to everyone, and not just during a health crisis. You can help by being a voice for universal access to water, both now and into the future.