2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

Learn More & Apply

Headshot of Norrel Hemphill

Norrel Hemphill

  • Hosted by Great Lakes Environmental Law Center
  • Sponsored by American Tire Distributors
  • Service location Detroit, Michigan
  • Law school Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School
  • Issue area Environmental Justice, Human Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2022
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Norrel (she/her/hers) will uplift the experiences of her community and provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy in Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes region to ensure low-income residents have access to safe and affordable drinking water.

Lack of access to safe and affordable drinking water is a rapidly growing environmental justice issue disproportionately impacting communities of color and lower-income communities. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, water affordability should be no more than 3% of a household’s monthly income. Yet, some Detroiters pay more than 20% of their monthly income toward their water bills. Detroit residents shoulder crippling debt from unaffordable water bills in a city plagued by failing infrastructure.

Detroit residents who cannot afford their water bills face displacement of their children and homelessness. Additionally, having no water or plumbing infrastructure has been linked to a rise in infectious diseases worldwide, even in the U.S. In 2016, Michigan experienced a Hepatitis B outbreak; a study found that water inaccessibility contributed to the spread of the illness. Detroit needs a permanent equity-based water affordability plan to address structural inequality and increase the quality of life for residents.

Born in Flint, raised in Detroit, and being personally affected by water issues compelled Norrel to join the fight for water affordability. Black and poor citizens are routinely and disproportionately negatively affected by human rights abuses.

Fellowship Plans

Building on the foundation that water warriors before her have laid, during her Fellowship, Norrel will provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy to ensure low-income residents have access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. The current legal framework provides little protection for Detroiters’ water rights. Norrel will work as an advocate for residents, helping them appeal to correct water bills, enroll in existing low-income payment programs, and eliminate the practice of shutting off water for non-payment.

Media

Equal Justice Works Celebrates the Work of Fellows for MLK Day

Environmental Justice Activists Issue a Call to ‘Wage Love,’ Work Toward Building an Environmentally Just Detroit

Bringing Justice to Communities in Need

WMU-cooley Graduate Selected as an Equal Justice Works Fellow

Water is a human right! Every human being deserves access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water.

Norrel Hemphill /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Meet Other Fellows Like Norrel

View All

Photo of Erin Mette

Erin Mette

Host: Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

Sponsor: Anonymous, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

Amira Mikhail

Host: International Refugee Assistance Project

Sponsor: AIG, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

Jacklyn Bryan

Host: Midwest Environmental Advocates, Inc.

Sponsor: Anonymous, Brico Fund

Mekela Panditharatne

Host: Natural Resources Defense Council

Sponsor: Anonymous