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Detroit not alone in shutting off water for unpaid bills

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Cutting off waterDetroit has drawn fire from all over the world for shutting off water to customers delinquent on their bills, but the city isn't unique. Cities across the country do it also.

In Michigan, Hamtramck, Warren, Pontiac, Eastpointe, Romulus and other cities have shut off delinquent customers as a way to improve collections. Elsewhere, so have other big cities such as Baltimore and St. Louis.

"It's universal in the utility world that at some point, you have to shut off service as part of your larger commitment to the community," said Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association, a nonprofit group with more than 50,000 members who work in the industry.

"If you never shut the water off for anybody, those people who continue to pay have to shoulder the entire cost of a system that is servicing a lot of customers that aren't paying. That's not a sustainable business model."

Curtis said water officials know better than anyone how important water is to public health and quality of life. But they are obligated to maintain systems that can serve everyone.

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