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It is time to end residential water shutoffs during excessive heat warnings

Excessive heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths.  Heat-related deaths are preventable, and Decatur can do more to mitigate heat-related impacts.  In the long-term, the city needs to monitor the number of heat-related illnesses and deaths and establish a plan to reduce them.  In the short-term, the city council should stop water shutoffs of occupied residences during extreme heat (the city currently has no policy associated with water shutoffs during heat advisories). 

Numerous residents lack air conditioning.  In Decatur, the median household income is $45,111, the poverty rate is 19.7%, and there are thousands of families in the city that are rent or mortgage distressed.  Families should not be forced to decide whether to pay rent/mortgage, buy groceries, purchase medication, or pay utility bills during extreme environmental conditions, conditions that are expected to worsen further in the coming years due to global warming. 

Why hasn’t Decatur already made a change? Three arguments have been made against such a policy: 1) individuals will take advantage of the system, 2) residents have other places such as cooling centers to stay safe, and 3) it is not a common practice.  As rebuttals, 1) individuals will still be responsible for paying their water bill, 2) shutting off water should not be a catalyst requiring families to rely on social services, and 3) as global warming intensifies, more cities will be adopting policies that protect their residents from heat emergencies.  It should also be pointed out that having municipal employees going to residences to shut off water during excessive heat warnings may increase the susceptibility of those workers to heat-related illnesses. 

Just as electric and gas utility companies are not allowed to shut off power during the winter months so occupants do not freeze, the city’s water utility should not turn off the water of occupied residences during heat emergencies so residents are able to keep hydrated.  Such a change in policy by the city council may very well save a person’s life. 

Horn for Decatur
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