Friday, January 28, 2022

"Water warriors" gather at Capitol to protest for clean water

March 23, 2017
Protestors march with a sign from Standing Rock during the World Water Day rally on March 22, 2017 at Capitol in Lansing. "Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!" the protestors yelled.
Protestors march with a sign from Standing Rock during the World Water Day rally on March 22, 2017 at Capitol in Lansing. "Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!" the protestors yelled. —

Self-proclaimed “water warriors” gathered from all corners of Michigan Wednesday to celebrate World Water Day and to demand and rally for water rights. The different water activist groups gathered at the state capital for the Flint water crisis, Detroit water affordability, Nestle interfering with Michigan’s groundwater and the danger of pipelines, specifically Enbridge’s Line 5.

Detroit's water affordability

Mariah Urueta coordinates all the campaigns for the Food & Water Watch as the Michigan Organizer in Detroit. Food & Water Watch is an organization that fights for healthy food and clean water for all. One of their current main focuses is water affordability in the city of Detroit.

“Detroit residents have to pay 100 percent of their drainage and sewage fee, which is fine and fair,” Urueta said. “But then they also, because of a court ruling, they now also have to pay … 86 percent of the surrounding regions … So that means that suburbs like Royal Oak, Ferndale, all of the other metro Detroit municipalities that are under GLWA (Great Lakes Water Authority), they only have to pay 17 percent of theirs. So it’s not that the water itself is unaffordable. … The problem is the inequity with the drainage and sewage fee.”

Urueta and the Food & Water Watch want this old court ruling reversed. They are advocating for the Detroit City Council to pass and implement an income-based water affordability plan.

“A resolution for this was actually already passed back in 2005,” Urueta said. “But a resolution isn’t legally binding … There was money supposedly set aside for this, but it got pushed to the wayside and was forgotten about.”

The income-based water affordability plan would allow people to pay what they can, depending on their income. Urueta said in the city of Detroit, people will either pay their water bill in full, or not pay it at all because of financial issues.

“It would actually generate more money for the city if they could pay what they can and stay in the city as opposed to just completely being shut off,” Urueta said.

Thousands of Detroit residents have had their water shut off. Without running water, residents can’t cook, clean or drink water. In October of 2014 the United Nations came to Detroit and officially declared the water shut-offs a human rights violation.

Single mother, student and now full-time human rights activist Nicole Hill is a resident of Detroit and has had her water shut off multiple times. She said the shut-offs directly affected her health and emotional state. In May of 2014, Hill’s water was shut off for the first time without her knowledge.

“I wasn’t even receiving regular bills,” she said. “I still thought Detroit was still on the every three month plan … Not knowing that they would do every month … I went to try to find out what was going on and was told that my bill was $5,000.”

Unable to pay, Hill was without water for approximately 10 weeks. Later that year in October, the UN directly helped to turn Hill’s and other Detroit residents' water back on. However, still unable to pay the water bill, Hill’s water was cut off again, this time resulting in Hill’s hospitalization for viral pneumonia.

In response to people’s statements toward Detroit residents that "they should just pay their bills," Hill said they can’t compare not purchasing a purse to not having life-saving water.

Flint water crisis

Another issue addressed at the rally was the on-going Flint water crisis. Progress was made Wednesday, and in the early hours of Wednesday afternoon, the House of Representatives voted to send $100 million in federal funds to the city of Flint to help with the water crisis.

The proposed $100 million will be used for treatment plant improvements, service line and water meter replacements, distribution system upgrades and other infrastructure needs.

The bill will now move on and head to the state Senate for approval.


Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation is a nonprofit organization directly involved with trying to stop Nestlé from extracting more water from Michigan.

There will be a DEQ public hearing on April 12 at Ferris State University to discuss Nestlé’s permit that would double the amount of water Nestlé extracts from a small community in Michigan from 250 to 400 gallons per minute.

Support student media! Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.

“How can they be taking this much water when Flint has no clean water to give to its residents?” asked Karen Trumbull from Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation during her speech at the Capitol.

Enbridge’s Line 5 

Line 5 has been a hot topic among Michigan’s water activists. The pipeline, built in 1953, sits on the bottom  of Michigan’s Great Lakes and has people concerned it will soon pollute the lakes.

One of the speakers at the rally, whistleblower and investigative environmental reporter John Bolenbaugh, said he had his whole life turned around when he tried to expose Enbridge’s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Bolenbaugh used to work as a subcontractor of Enbridge but allegedly saw things he didn’t think were morally right, and decided to speak out.

“I worked on the (Kalamazoo) oil spill,” he said. “And I became a whistleblower because I was watching everybody burying oil. They were putting grass over the  top of the oil and not cleaning it out of the river properly. I was watching them sign off on these documents saying it was clean and it wasn’t.”

Bolenbaugh said when he went to Enbridge and told them to stop hurting the community, he was fired from his company of SET Environmental the next day.

“Enbridge will say that they had no part of my firing, even though the head supervisor for SET Environmental testified under oath that Enbridge told him to fire me," he said.

Bolenbaugh currently has an appeal going through because the case was dropped.

In an email statement from Enbridge, spokesperson Ryan Duffy said Bolenbaugh never worked for Enbridge and he was just employed by a contractor, hired as part of their cleanup response. Enbridge also said they never instructed a contractor to fire an employee and that they have never hidden oil or attempted to hide oil.

Bolenbaugh now lives his life trying to educate people on the dangers of pipelines.

“Companies actually want oil spills because they would rather wait for an oil spill to happen instead of shutting the pipe down and fix it for maintenance,” Bolenbaugh said. “They lose hundreds of millions of dollars to fix a pipe but if they wait for the spill to happen the insurance company hires them to clean up their own mess …They don’t make profit off that stuff unless they have contamination spills.”

He said he doesn’t want Line 5 to rupture and pollute the Great Lakes. He claims the thickness of the walls of the pipelines are inevitably deteriorating because of the age of the pipeline. No matter the maintenance, Bolenbaugh said Line 5 won’t last much longer.

When asked about Line 5’s stability, Duffy said, “We continually are doing inspections internally and externally to check for those kinds of things … The coating is still in good shape, our corrosion protection is working.”

Bolenbaugh said every old piece of technology eventually gives up and doesn’t last forever.

“Let’s say I buy a car and I drive it every single minute of every single day for 64 years,” Bolenbaugh said. “Is my car going to be in the same shape it was when it started?”

Bolenbaugh predicts that oil from Line 5 will in fact soon spill, and there will be no feasible way to get all of it out. He said the EPA said from Enbridge’s 2010 spill in the Kalamazoo River, to this day there are 100,000 gallons of oil that can never be retrieved.

Duffy disagreed and said the Kalamazoo River is in good condition.

“The EPA led that cleanup," Duffy said. "They said there’s no sign of any contamination or any issues there.”


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