Governor Rick Synder is calling the Flint city water crisis ″Michigan′s Katrina″. He is accepting responsibility for his role in not acting quicker as a state of emergency has been declared. But there are many others whom have a hand in the blame for this disaster. From Flint city officials to the federal government by way of the EPA. So how did the Flint waster crisis start? When did officials realize that the residents of Flint, Michigan were being poisoned? Why has nothing been done about it until now? This is a tale of government failure on a grand scale and a harbinger of things to come as governments (local, state and federal) continue to mismanage and overspend the taxpayer′s money.
Flint, Michigan is a city of about 100,000 people, located about 50 miles north of Detroit. Throughout much of the 20th Century, it was home to one of the largest auto factory complexes, namely those of General Motors. The city fell on hard times as the US auto industry imploded in the 1970s. A rich, prosperous community with little unemployment quickly became a hell hole of crime and despair as factories closed. Today, barely half of the city′s adult residents are employed. Meanwhile, the city itself went bankrupt, digging itself deep into debt as its tax-base eroded.
To save money, the City of Flint decided to suspend its contract of buying freshwater from the City of Detroit. The Motor City sells water to most of the surrounding communities, charging them a higher rate in order to keep water bills lower for its own residents. Keep in mind that Detroit has fallen on financial hard times as well, filing for bankruptcy, too! Flint decided to obtain its water via a pipeline to Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes. But, that would take time, so, in the interim, they would use a local source, the Flint River. In 2014, the switch was made. However, problems were soon revealed as a water sample analyzed in April of 2014 showed high levels of lead. Add to that, most of the existing pipes also were lead.
As a result, an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 Flint residents may be subject to lead poisoning. Mind you, residents knew from Day One that the water was foul. It was cloudy and stunk! While folks made do with water filters and boiling, people were getting sick, and not just from lead or other toxins. We now know that there was an outbreak of Legionnaire′s disease. At least 10 people have died from it and 77 other cases have been diagnosed.
By November, 2015, the Flint water crisis finally started getting some attention when a federal class action lawsuit was filed. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and thirteen other state and local officials were named in the lawsuit. On January 5, 2016, a state of emergency was declared. FEMA and National Guard troops began delivering bottled water and water filters to residents. Other communities, as well as celebrities like Cher, are pitching in providing free water. Gov. Snyder has apologized to the people of Flint and so far, three officials have resigned over the crisis.
I am no fan of Snyder, in fact, long-time readers may recall that I warned about him years ago when he ran for governor the first time. While he has a share in the blame here, he is not alone. The Mayor of Flint at the time, Dayne Walling, as well as the Snyder-appointed emergency manager, Ed Kurtz and State Treasurer Andy Dillon also have a share in this fiasco. As does Genesee County, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). One could say that this is the result of a ′water war′ between the DWSD, KWA, the State of Michigan, and the cities of Flint and Detroit. All for the attempt to save $5 million dollars over a two-year period. The pipeline that the KWA was to build would take at least 3 years to finish but the DWSD only agreed to cover one year, forcing the City of Flint to use the Flint River as its prime source.
Early in January of 2015, as the switch was made, the first signs of trouble began to appear. Residents immediately noticed the poor quality of the water from the Flint River. Doctors began detected higher lead levels in blood samples of residents, particularly children. Water from the Flint River is more corrosive and it was suspected that this was causing lead leaching from the old water pipes. However, city officials tried to cover it up until the story broke in November of 2015 thanks to an article in the Flint Journal and the MLive website. But even before that, the gears of outrage were turning. A petition demanding that the City of Flint reconnect with the Detroit water system was signed online by over 25,000 people and sent to Mayor Walling. In September, a scientific study of the water by Virginia Tech engineer Marc Edwards confirmed that the tap water in Flint had high levels of lead. Some homes tested showed levels of 13,200 parts per billion, ppb, significantly higher than the federal standards of 15ppb.
Another study done at the Hurley Medical Center in Flint proved that area children were showing elevated lead levels in their blood, but the report was dismissed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claims that there is no connection between consumption of Flint River water and the 87 cases of Legionnaire′s disease. But the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), disagrees and knew of the outbreak of Legionnaire′s disease as far back as April of 2015. The Flint Journal discovered from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that in January of 2015, Genesee County health officials knew that the Flint River water was loaded with coliform, E-coli, Heterotropic and trihalomenthanes. The FOIA also showed that the Michigan DEQ knew of the link to Legionnaire′s in October of 2015, but gave no public warning.
Finally, in October, the water supply was switched back to the Detroit system. Gov. Snyder requested $6 million dollars from the Michigan State Legislature to cover half of the costs to complete its pipeline project. In December, a chemical additive was introduced to the water from Detroit to help end the corrosive lead leaching in the Flint water system. In the end, this fiasco to save a few million dollars will wind up costing over $1.5 Billion, not to mention the health costs of some 6,000 to 12,000 residents facing long-term issues from lead poisoning. Flint′s new mayor, Karen Weaver, has her hands full as the Flint water crisis. This disaster will be ongoing for decades as the human toll will only get worse.
So while I have no problem laying some of the blame for the City of Flint water crisis at Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, his role is actually minor compared to others in this disaster. In the case of the ′chicken and the egg′, the ′egg′ clearly came first! City and county officials, mostly Democrats, started this whole mess. Deficit spending caused Flint to go bankrupt and forced the situation. Detroit′s Water Department could have been more cooperative. At the federal level, the EPA knew of the water problems last summer, if not earlier, and did little. The tag of ″Michigan′s Katrina″ is apt as this was a failure of all levels of government. Just as citizens need to protect themselves from criminals by owning firearms, people need to invest in their own water filtering equipment. People die without water in just a few days, and can get sick with just one sip of bad water. You cannot count on government to protect you. They try, bless their hearts, but, as we see here, they sometimes come up short.