Donations Helping to Keep the Water Flowing in Detroit

By: CBS MoneyWatch
By: CBS MoneyWatch

July 28, 2014

CBS MoneyWatch - Detroit is now about halfway through its 15-day moratorium to shut off water to residents of the bankrupt city who cannot pay their bills.

And in the meantime, a group has emerged that is offering to help pay some of those unpaid water bills.

The Detroit Water Project began as a Twitter conversation between two friends, who wanted to find a way to help cash-strapped Detroiters keep their water flowing.

"Some friends and I have been following the deteriorating water situation in Detroit and we wanted to help somehow," one of the plan's organizers, Tiffani Ashley Bell, wrote on her Facebook page earlier this month.

"Donating cash to some faceless 'charitable' organization didn't seem to be enough," she added. "So, we've set up a page where anybody who needs help with a past due water bill of $250 or less in Detroit can be matched with a donor to pay the entire or part of the bill in order to get water turned back on."

The project's "Turn on Detroit's Water" website will match up a donor with a Detroit resident, and will assist them in directly submitting a payment to the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) on the resident's behalf. The donors, whose names are kept confidential, can chose to pay either an entire bill or just a portion.

"You wake up one morning and you find that your bill has been paid and it's like a blessing," Detroit resident John Rice told CBS station WWJ. "It will give people a feeling of relief and it will just be better because everybody will be able to help one another out."

And as of last week, the Detroit Water Project has reportedly accumulated over 1,400 donors.

"We've been able to completely pay down 16 accounts who owed as much as $600," Bell told the Washington Post's Wonk Blog. "Many donations are in the range of $20-100 with some donations going as high as $2,500."

There have been other efforts underway to help Detroit residents faced with water shut-offs. Grass-roots emergency water collection and distribution groups have sprung up in the city.

Meanwhile, protestors from Windsor, Ontario -- the Canadian city just across from Detroit -- brought several hundred gallons of water across the border to Detroit last week, in a symbolic gesture. "The fact that the Canadians have to come over to help out Americans," the event's organizer Randy Emerson told WWJ, "that should embarrass the federal government, or the state government or the city of Detroit to either help out or stop these water shutoffs."

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