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Flint drinking water compromised to save money, now water disconnection notices are being sent

Michael Moore
Photo: Michael Moore says #ArrestGovSnyder.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan continues.

Flint is a majority-black city of about 99,000 people, situated an hour north of Detroit.

Flint’s drinking water supply became contaminated with lead after the city switched its water supply in 2014 to save money. It had been accessing its drinking water through the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, but Flint’s emergency manager, appointed by the state, ordered the city to draw its water from the long-polluted and corrosive Flint River to save about $5 million.

The Canadian Press explains, “For more than a year, water drawn from the Flint River leached lead from old pipes into homes after the city switched its drinking water. Flint has since returned to Detroit’s system for its water, but officials remain concerned that damage to the pipes caused by the Flint River could allow them to continue leaching lead. Exposure to lead can cause behaviour problems and learning disabilities in children as kidney ailments in adults.”

In April 2014, Flint began drawing its water from the Flint River. People expressed concern about the safety of the drinking water from the start, but city officials assured residents the water was safe to drink. The Washington Post reports, “There’s also some evidence to suggest that state officials knew about the lead problem, as early as July [2015].” It wasn’t until October 2015 that the city admitted that there was a problem with the water and switched back to drawing the city’s drinking water from Detroit. In December 2015, Flint’s mayor declared a state of emergency.

And now the news reports, “Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has asked U.S. President Barack Obama to issue an emergency and major disaster declaration amid a drinking water crisis in Flint that began months ago, and the state attorney general announced Friday [Jan. 15] that his office would investigate [what, if any Michigan laws were violated]. Snyder’s office said in a statement late Thursday [Jan. 14] night it had asked for the declarations and is seeking additional federal aid for both individuals and public agencies involved in the effort to provide Flint residents with clean drinking water.”

That article adds, “If it is approved, the individual assistance could include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, and the public assistance would help agencies such as city schools and the water system.”

Late yesterday, ABC News reported, “For anyone refusing to pay for water because of the issues, you should know, the city is ready to shut the water off completely. Flint says it will start issuing water shutoff warnings to people who haven’t paid their water bills. The city put a hold on shutoff notices over the holidays, but the reprieve is over. The new notices will include past due bills from November and December.”

Flint is a poor city and has been subject to a drastic increase in water rates. In 2011, Flint imposed a 35 per cent increase in water rates, despite a city law that requires increases to be gradually implemented. In 2014, the average water and sewer bill in Flint was $140 a month. In November 2015, disconnection notices were sent to about 1,800 households.

While federal aid is now being sought, back in 2011 our ally Food & Water Watch warned against US President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget cuts of over half a billion in federal funding for wastewater infrastructure and nearly $400 million for drinking water infrastructure. At that time, Food & Water Watch executive Director Wenonah Hauter said, “These budget cuts will make it harder for municipalities to provide safe drinking water and sanitation to average U.S. households, but the poorest Americans will be even more at risk of losing access to these basic human rights.”

In an open letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder last week, filmmaker Michael Moore wrote, “Thanks to you, sir, and the premeditated actions of your administrators, you have effectively poisoned, not just some, but apparently ALL of the children in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. And for that, you have to go to jail. To poison all the children in an historic American city is no small feat. Even international terrorist organizations haven’t figured out yet how to do something on a magnitude like this.”

Both contaminated drinking water and disconnecting water services are violations of the United Nations recognized human right to water.