Olympia, WA—A coalition of 22 Washington organizations is calling on Governor Jay Inslee in a letter to issue an executive order that ensures every Washingtonian has access to clean, running water during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday the groups sent a letter to Inslee that lays out three urgent actions: suspend water shut-offs statewide; proactively restore water to households where water was previously suspended due to non-payment, and provide relief for those struggling to pay their water bills.
The letter was organized by Food & Water Action and signed by a range of environmental, labor, and community organizations, including Economic Opportunity Institute, MLK Labor Council, NAACP Vancouver, Sierra Club, Transit Riders Union, Washington Community Action Network, and Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
“It has been 78 days since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Washington, but Governor Inslee still hasn’t used his full authority to guarantee access to water for everyone in our state during this crisis,” said Thomas Meyer, a Seattle-based organizer for Food & Water Action. “It is simply not enough to rely on voluntary actions by individual utilities and private companies. Washington residents who are staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19 must have access to water, and workers who have lost jobs and benefits cannot be further burdened by the threat of late fees and penalties.”
Some public water systems – including Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver – have committed to ending shut-offs voluntarily. But six of the largest public water utilities in the state, which together serve over 458,000 Washington residents, have not publicly stated that they will suspend shutoffs. Only two of the largest 25 public utilities have publicly committed to reconnecting customers that were disconnected before these policies went into effect. Most of the state’s 52 private water utilities have not made public announcements to suspend shutoffs or restore service.
The groups point out that universal access to water will assist Washington in combating the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, and that shutoffs disproportionately impact low-income households and communities of color.
Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union said “How are people supposed to wash their hands and keep their homes virus-free if they don’t have water? Washington state needs to stop water shut-offs statewide, and reconnect all customers immediately, to protect public health during this emergency."
Several states – including California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Maine, and New Hampshire – have already established moratoriums covering all public and private water systems. California and Michigan are requiring water systems to proactively restore service to all customers.