Flint — The Flint Water Treatment Plant was in such ruin in 2013 that a review could not even be conducted, while city and state officials didn’t demand using corrosive controls on the city’s drinking water, a longtime water quality expert testified Thursday.
Warren Green, vice president and chief technical officer for Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, was called to testify in the criminal case of four Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees. Green’s firm warned Flint officials and others that the water treatment plant was not ready for operation when the city switched from the Detroit area water system to the Flint River at year late in April 2014.
A test run on the plant was a failure, Green said, because “the plant was found to be in such a state of disrepair we could not even conduct the review.”
There were many problems with the plant, including that there was no chlorination system in place.
Green said that MDEQ water regulator Stephen Busch, one of the defendants, told him at another meeting that corrosive treatment to the water “wasn't required” and that “partial softening is a form of corrosion control.” Daugherty Johnson III, a then-Flint utilities administrator, told Green that “we dodged a bullet” by not spending money on corrosion control.
The discussions began with then-Flint Emergency Manager Edward Kurtz, whom Green said scoffed at the estimated $34 million cost to bring the plant into operation. Green said Kurtz treated him in an “rather arrogant manner” unlike he had been treated in 40 years in water quality consulting.
“When he informed me they were not going to do full softening (of the drinking water) and I pushed back on his decision, and explained that the city had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, that he did not have any scientific basis for making that decision,” Green said. “At that point, Mr. Kurtz looked at me and he said we have discussed this with the MDEQ.”
Softening the water, Green said, was needed because the Flint River water was “hard.”
Before Green testified, Special Prosecutor Todd Flood and Mark Sweet, an attorney for Green and LAN, fought about whether Green should be allowed to testify as an expert. 67th District Court Judge Jennifer Manley allowed it to commence only on “fact-based testimony.”
Green under questioning by prosecutor Gary Reeves that partial softening could work as a for of corrosion control, but only if Flint officials did corrosive control testing for 30 to 90 days after the initial run to make certain.
LAN officials have long contended that they warned Flint officials about corrosion control issues. A gubernatorial task force blamed the lack of corrosion control chemicals for the leaching of lead into Flint’s drinking water.
On June 26, 2013, two months after Flint agreed to join the Karegnondi Water Authority, Kurtz signed off on a resolution committing the city to using water from the river. The decision entered Flint into a $171,000 contract with a consulting firm to move in that direction.
Earlier, Sweet requested a protective order to limit Green’s testimony. The attorney said LAN is being sued civilly and did not want his testimony to be used in future discovery in those cases.
“We’re asking that the court limit his testimony to only that as a fact witness, not expert witness,” Sweet argued. “We believe Mr. Green should not be compelled to provide expert witness testimony against his consent.”
In 2016, Attorney General Bill Schuette sued engineering firms LAN and Veolia North America for allegedly letting the Flint water contamination crisis to “occur, continue and worsen,” an argument the companies have denied and vowed to fight. Schuette is working with Flood on the Flint water investigation.
Sweet said the special prosecutor’s office has accused Green’s firm of negligence “in the very same issues we’re dealing with today. So any testimony that Mr. Green provides that’s not necessary for the criminal charges today could potentially prejudice LAN’s interests. It also could potentially prejudice Mr. Green’s interests.”
Flood said he wouldn’t ask Green anything “hypothetical” in the hearing and he should be a witness.
“When I took Mr. Green’s investigative subpoena, there’s nothing in there that we see that gives criminal culpability,” Flood told the judge. “And I told him that. This is a world-class expert in water supply.”
According to LAN’s website, Green has 38 years of experience in the engineering management and supervision of complex drinking water supply and treatment projects, totaling more than $1 billion.