May 8, 2024 

Media Contact: Mary Dettloff, Compass Strategies, 


During Drinking Water Week, Legislators and Stakeholders Urge Action on Water Affordability Legislation 

DETROIT, Mich. – May 5-11 is Drinking Water Week and legislators, water providers, and community agencies are urging action on legislation to create a water affordability program in Michigan. More than 100 local and county elected officials have sent letters to legislative leaders in support of the bills (see attached)  

“Drinking Water Week reminds us that in Michigan, we are surrounded by fresh water yet have not ensured that every Michigander has access to water regardless of where they live in the state or how much money they have,” said Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), lead sponsor of the legislation to create a statewide Water Affordability Program. “New data shows that between 290,000 and 390,000 Michigan households, in every region of this state, could benefit from a statewide low-income water affordability program, and we know this solution is not only the right thing to do for our families, but also promotes greater public health and helps ensure stability for our municipal water providers across the state.” 

New statewide data from the University of Michigan and Public Sector Consultants shows the breadth of the water affordability problem in Michigan, with between 290,000 and 390,000 households struggling to pay their water bills. This includes water customers in urban neighborhoods, as well as customers in the suburbs and small rural communities. Data from the University of Michigan and Public Sector Consultants include a county-by-county breakdown of approximately how many residents would benefit from the proposed statewide low-income water residential affordability program and can be found at the links below. 

“Most municipal water systems are funded solely on the revenue they collect when customers pay their bills in full,” said Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. “However, when our customers are struggling to pay their water bills, that revenue goes uncollected and ultimately ends up as a bad debt expense. Water providers have no choice but to raise rates to cover the loss. The Water Affordability legislation would help this problem by helping those struggling address past-due bills and establish a monthly bill they can pay.” 

The Michigan Low-Income Water Residential Affordability Program would: 

  • Provide that monthly water bills for enrolled households are no more than 3% of annual household income with sustainable funding through a $2 per month funding factor on water bills; 
  • Outline a notification process for water providers that would require they contact delinquent customers at least four times before shutting off service for nonpayment; 
  • Prohibit water providers from shutting off service or putting a lien on property taxes of customers enrolled in a Water Affordability Program; 
  • Establish a plumbing repair fund to pay for up to $2,500 of repairs per household, with options for extreme need cases; 
  • Pay off arrearages up to $1,500 in the first year and $3,000 over two years of successful enrollment, with options for excessive arrearages; 
  • Provide a mechanism to accept philanthropic donations into the Water Affordability Program; 
  • Establish a triage program with wrapround services for residents who fail to comply with the program once enrolled. 

 “Our purpose is to help our members effectively manage water while protecting public health,” said Bonnifer Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association (MI-AWWA). “MI-AWWA believes that the water affordability bills generally represent what’s best for both water utilities and water customers in Michigan.” 

The Low-Income Water Residential Affordability Program is similar to the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) for heating and cooling payment assistance which was created by the Snyder Administration and a Republican-controlled Legislature, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which provides federal funding for the same purpose and has had strong bipartisan support since 1981. Under the Water Affordability legislation, a $2 per meter funding factor would be collected by water providers each month and passed on to the state to support the statewide program to support gap payments, arrearages, and plumbing repairs to conserve water. The program would ensure that a customer whose household income is up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or who is eligible for certain assistance programs will not pay more than 3% of their household income on a water bill. Listening to feedback from stakeholders, the legislation has been improved to allow for the affordability funding to stay within and benefit only eligible water users within the region it is generated. The four regions are based on the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services service center regions. 

 “For many in northern Michigan, a sudden medical emergency or job loss can be a financial blindside, and a new water affordability program will be able to ensure that our neighbors do not lose access to their drinking water,” said Kerry Baughman, Executive Director of Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency. “Legislators are working to ensure that water affordability funding collected in Northern Michigan stays in Northern Michigan. This is a positive change for our rural communities with unique needs and challenges.”  

 “Thousands of Michigan residents rely on local water providers to supply clean, safe, accessible, and affordable water,” said Sylvia Orduño, Director of the People’s Water Board Coalition. “Drinking Water Week offers an important opportunity for utilities and customers to promote the human right to water for public health and safety. We need our legislature to pass statewide water affordability legislation to ensure low-income residential customers have the billing protections they need for household well-being. Doing so will ensure that water providers can rely upon consistent payments from vulnerable residents and improve water utility operations for all customers.” 

 University of Michigan “Michigan Statewide Water Affordability Assessment” report: 

Public Sector Consultants “Understanding water affordability in Michigan” data: 


 MEDIA PLEASE NOTE: Support letter from local and county elected officials.