CLEVELAND — Hundreds of Cleveland water customers whose service was shutoff prior to the coronavirus outbreak remain without water despite a water department offer last March to restore service.
The Cleveland Division of Water offered to restore water service to customers following recommendations by public health officials that hand washing and proper sanitation were vital to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The department says 1,800 customers had their water shutoff prior to the outbreak and so far, service has been restored to 1,253 customers--leaving nearly 600 without water.
Public Utilities Director Robert Davis declined an interview, but in a statement re-iterated the water department "has, and will continue to, reconnect all customers who contact us and can meet us at the property."
Davis said "having a responsible party on site during water re-connections ensures appropriate safety and health measures are followed," adding that "plumbing must be operable and in good working order to prevent any property damage."
Meanwhile, a national advocacy group that tracks water shutoffs is critical of the water department's progress.
Mary Grant, of Food & Water Watch based in Washington DC, said "they should have restored everyone by now--it's been months and restoration should have happened immediately."
Grant says water shutoffs are a nationwide concern with more than one-third of the nation's water customers going without water during the coronavirus crisis.
The group estimates 650 localities have suspended cutoffs nationwide and the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation calling for a nationwide moratorium on water shutoffs that still must be approved by the Senate.
Grant warns that "in a pandemic, having water at home is critical to help protect communities at large from the spread of disease."
Our investigation found that not all water customers who have experienced water shutoffs in the past were late paying a bill. In one case, Cleveland water customer Tiana Ellington returned home from work one day last August only to find the water was shutoff.
"My water was shutoff without notice," says Ellington,"and I was not behind in my bill in any way."
Turns out, the water department said Ellington needed a new meter and when it could not reach her, the water was cut off.
But Ellington says she never received any notification, and in fact, owned the home since 2018, signed up for water in her name, and no one alerted her to a need for a new water meter.
After repeated phone calls followed by complaints on the water department's twitter account, her water was restored.
"Why would anyone not go ahead and get a new meter if it meant having your water cut off," says Ellington who questions why it would take a national health crisis to offer to restore water.
And though her shutoff happened months before the coronavirus outbreak, she's sympathetic to families that may be going without water.
"These are homes filled with young babies, with children, with infants, the elderly and it should not take a global health crisis."