Water is Not Human Right, U.S. Judge Tells Poor People in Detroit

| by Michael Allen

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes ruled on Monday there is no "right" to free water and refused to block Detroit from shutting off water to poor people who can't afford their bills.

"There is no such right or law," said Judge Rhodes. "The last thing [Detroit] needs is this hit to its revenues."

According to Detroit News, Judge Rhodes added that residents do not have a right to a water "service based on an ability to pay."

Alice Jennings, a lawyer representing ten Detroit residents who are trying to stop the city from cutting off their water, said she was "disappointed, but not surprised" by the ruling.

"We will be looking at an appeal," added Jennings. "We believe there is a right to water and there is a right to affordable water."

Jennings also noted that Judge Rhodes failed to address the public safety issues if people do not have water, which could result in health care problems.

The mass water shutoff is part of Detroit's plan to get out of debt after filing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history last year.

Judge Rhodes claimed that the 24,000 water shutoffs were part of a "bold, commendable and necessarily aggressive plan."

In June, three United Nations (UN) experts said that the water shutoffs due to a lack of payment "constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights," reported

“Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying," stated UN official Catarina de Albuquerque. "In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections."

UN official Leilani Farha added, "If these water disconnections disproportionately affect African-Americans they may be discriminatory, in violation of treaties the U.S. has ratified."

"If people are being proactive, we work with them," said Detroit city spokeswoman Curtrise Garner told the Associated Press. "But if we don't hear anything, we don't know if they are not paying or if they won't pay."

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) defended Detroit residents in a statement: "Actions that deny residents the ability to bathe, hydrate, or prepare meals for themselves and their families create costly long-term public health challenges. These water cutoffs are not only inhumane but economically short-sighted."

Sources: Associated Press,, Detroit News (Image Credit: Walter Baxter)