Michigan activists seek to make water a human right

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Dozens of self-described “water warriors” rallied Wednesday at the Michigan Capitol, asking legislators to address large bills, shutoffs, quality control and more in a demonstration marking World Water Day.

Activists who traveled from Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and other parts of the state brought unique issues to the table but shared a common mantra: “Water is a human right.”

“We have a toxic water problem in Flint,” said Claire McClinton. “We have a bills-too-high-to-pay-for-this-poison-water problem in Flint. And last but not least, we have a democracy problem in Flint.”

Recent testing shows lead levels in Flint water have fallen below a federal action limit, prompting the state to end a water bill reimbursement program, but officials continue to recommend residents use tap filters for any drinking water.

A group of Democratic state legislators joined activists in a Wednesday afternoon news conference at Central United Methodist Church, highlighting bills they’ve introduced and said would increase water rate transparency, allow for state-level rate regulation and create safety testing rules.

“We are the Great Lakes State,” said Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit. “We’re surrounded by clean water, so the fact that folks live in our state without access to clean, safe, affordable and accessible water is just wrong.”

Activists and Democratic legislators also criticized Republican President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which would eliminate the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and reduce funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’re looking at national policies attacking regulations that protect the water, removing funds that help clean up the water, especially here in the Great Lakes,” said Rep. Phil Phelps, D-Flint. “We have to stand up and protect ourselves from things like that.”