Detroit water officials working with customers as shutoffs loom

Detroit city officials are unveiling a program to help water customers who are having a tough time paying their bills.

$1.7 million is seeping away from the City of Detroit because of unpaid water bills. Water officials have been putting out the notices to pay your water bill or make an arrangement within 10 days -- or risk your water being cut off. May 1 is the cutoff date for when another round of shutoffs will begin.

"We have an assistance program that makes water affordable, and we will come into your house; we will do an audit of your plumbing; we will fix your repairs up to $1,000 - anything that's leaking in your home - so that you get an average bill," says Gary Brown with the water department. He tells us the city is offering one of the most generous collaborations he's ever seen, and it's all through the Water Residential Assistant Program. Here's how it works:

If you owe money and need to be put on a plan, find a way to put down $50 a month. The city will then put down $25, making the total cost towards your bill of $75 a month. There's a bonus, too.

If there's a past due amount you are unable to get a handle on, the city will help pay off your old water bills just by you keeping current on the $50 payment. This only applies if you have up to $700 worth of water debt.

This $50 a month plan isn't for everybody, though. It's only for those who qualify for the water assistance plan.

"At the end of the year, if you've made your $50 committment we will pay off your rears. That's one of the most compassionate, generous programs in America and it makes water affordable," Brown says.

In all, 23,000 are at risk of shutoffs right now. Thirty-thousand people have signed up for the payment plan and are making at least the minimum payment. Tuesday, the city teamed up with nonprofits, too, to come up with arrangements with people whose water bills have burst beyond their control.

A strong reminder, though -- "We need you to come in before you get cut off, not after," Brown says.

All this is being done in hopes of avoiding shutoff protests like the ones the last few years that flooded news feeds, with demonstraters arguing that water is a right.

Brown says the city will meet you in the middle to make sure everyone has water they need.

You can contact the department at (313) 267-8000, or email your questions at

There will also be a Water Assistance Fair on Saturday, April 30 from 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. at the Water Authority Building in the 13000 block of E McNichols.