Detroit is off to a slow start restoring water service to thousands of households previously shut off for failing to pay their bills, a plan intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus by ensuring residents can wash their hands.
During a news conference Friday, Water and Sewerage Department director Gary Brown reported that just 73 of 2,800 homes without service were restored in the first week of the effort.
He blamed the slow pace on difficulties at some homes including a lack of water meters and needed plumbing repairs, as well as a lack of plumbers.
"The process to turn on water service is not as simple as flipping a switch," Brown said.
Three plumbers will be added next week to speed the pace of restorations.
Water rights activist Sylvia Orduño blasted the city's slow response in an interview with Bridge Magazine.
“This is a crisis. We can’t wait weeks for water to be restored,” Orduño told Bridge.
“They don’t have the capacity to deal with this. The pace is too slow for an emergency situation and there are many households still in a vulnerable state.”
Her group may soon call on Whitmer or others to establish emergency stations to distribute water similar to ones during the Flint water crisis. Additionally, activists want a more rigorous effort to locate families without water, rather than relying on them to call the city for help.
Residents are required to call a help line to have service restored 313-386-9727. Under the city's new "Coronavirus Water Restart Plan," the state will cover the cost to restore water for the first 30 days. After 30 days, shut-off customers without can have it restored for $25 a month.
The city said it will halt any new shutoffs for the duration of the outbreak.