The Flint Water Crisis: 7 Years Later

April 23, 2021

Apr. 25, 2021 marks the 7th anniversary of the Flint Water Crisis. Read about how it started, the current settlement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and impacts on the Flint community.

On Apr. 25, 2014, Flint, Michigan, switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River temporarily. This switch occurred as the department constructed a pipeline to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority. 

The result of this measure would prove to be disastrous for the Flint community. Apr. 25 marks the 7th anniversary of the Flint water crisis, which continues to make headlines and captivate people around the U.S. due to the gross mismanagement of Flint’s water supply. Nevertheless, this year’s anniversary marks the start of the end of the completion for lead service line replacements in the community, but the impacts will remain long lasting for the affected residents and serve as a clear example of the necessity for better water supply management.

What Happened to Flint, Michigan’s Water?

Concerns began when residents of Flint — a majority-black city where 40% of people live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — complained about the odor and color of the water. Although the city switched back to receiving water from the Great Lakes Water Authority as its primary water source on Oct. 16, 2015, many homes/sites continued to have elevated lead levels. 

“Plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that the Flint Water System is in violation of the Lead and Copper Rule’s requirements for corrosion control treatment, tap water monitoring, notification, and reporting,” stated the settlement agreement.

The lawsuits and claims maintain that residents of Flint and others who used or were exposed to water from the Flint Water Treatment Plant between Apr. 25, 2014 to Nov. 16, 2020, suffered as a result of the contaminated water. According to the Flint water crisis settlement website, this suffering entails: personal injury; property damage; economic loss; or any other type of damage or injury as a result of exposure to, use of, or being obligated to pay for the contaminated water.  

The settling defendants include the state of Michigan, the city of Flint, government officials, McLaren Hospital, and Rowe Engineering, according to The Official Flint Water Settlement website. The settlement does not resolve claims against the engineering companies or the U.S. EPA, however.

Apr. 2015, the U.S. EPA was notified by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) "that the city did not have corrosion control treatment in place at the Flint Water Treatment Plant."

Flint, Michigan, Blood Lead Levels

A study from the local Hurley Medical Center released data Sept. 2015 which found that 2.1% of children age 5 and under had elevated blood lead levels prior to the switch to Flint River water compared to 4% after the switch. As a result, the Genesee County Board of Commissioners released a public health advisory for residents concerning lead in Flint Water. 

By Oct. 2, 2015, then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released a comprehensive action plan to help Flint residents address water concerns.

On Dec. 14, 2015, newly-elected Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint declared a state of emergency in response to the lead in water crisis as a result of the consequences of the switch of the water source. The switch was made, according to the city, without the proper corrosion control measures in place, which resulted in lead from the lead water service lines leaching into the drinking water.

Water Shut Off Moratorium in the Wake of COVID-19

Nov. 2019, Mayor Sheldon Neeley pledged a 100-day water shutoff moratorium before being elected in order for a study on water affordability to be conducted, according to the city. Flint began offering water reconnections to households more than two weeks before the action was required by the state.

More than 1,500 Michigan residences had water service reconnected or avoided planned shutoffs as a result of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-28. The order requires public water supplies to restore water service to occupied residences where service had been terminated due to nonpayment, a decision prompted by the start of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

The city still urges residents to pay their water bill if they can because despite the water moratorium, all residents remain responsible for and financially liable for all fees incurred on their water bills.

The Flint Water Crisis Settlement

According to Michigan News, U.S. District Court Special Master Deborah E. Greenspan told Judge Judith E. Levy on Apr. 7, 2021, that a large number of registration forms have been submitted to the court for the $641 million Flint water crisis settlement. 

An attorney estimated that 50,000 people signed up for a share of the Flint water crisis settlement by the deadline, reported Michigan Radio. The city contributed $20 million to the settlement to benefit the residents of the city.

The city council had to force a shutdown of Flint's service line replacement project as the project nears completion, according to the city.

“It is unconscionable for our work to be stalled when so many have been negatively impacted by lead contamination,” said Mayor Sheldon Neeley in the city’s press release. “This is blatant filibustering designed to delay and distract us from moving our community forward. People should always be placed over politics. I am calling on all city council members to do the right thing and approve this contract to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our residents.”

Flint Pipe Replacement Progress

So far, the project has checked the water pipes at more than 26,000 residences and replaced more than 9,500 lead and/or galvanized steel pipes. There are an estimated 500 service lines left to check in the city of Flint. 

The service line replacement project was originally scheduled for completion in 2019. The project was behind schedule when the current administration came into office, however, according to the city.

According to what Rick Freeman of Rowe Professional Services told the city council Apr. 14, 2021, the company that manages Flint’s program for replacing lead service lines, he hopes the final approximately 500 service lines that still need to be excavated in the city will be checked and replaced by June or July, 2021, reported Michigan News.

According to the city, along with the lead service line improvements, other major infrastructure improvements underway include: construction of the secondary water line, renovating and expanding its water reservoirs, building a backup water source, constructing a new chemical feed building, replacing water mains, and installing new household water meters.

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Cristina Tuser

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