It doesn’t matter if official reports say Flint’s water is safe to drink. If residents turn on the tap and the water that comes out is oddly colored — or any color but clear — and stinky, they aren’t going to drink it. Nor should they have to.
Flint water customers have been complaining about the smell, taste and color of their water since the spring of 2014, after the city cut its ties to the Detroit Water system and started treating and delivering its own supply.
The move saved Flint about $12 million a year, not an insignificant amount for a city that is under emergency financial management by the state of Michigan because of its shaky finances.
But cheaper water is no bargain if it is undrinkable. And residents of Flint are making a good case that the water the city provides is unfit for human consumption.
Water in the Detroit system is pulled from the depths of Lake Huron and has few contaminants that must be cleansed away at the treatment plant. Flint, for now at least, gets its water from the Flint River, which has endured a century or more of industrial and residential pollution.
Cleansing the river water is a more challenging task, and one Flint has yet to master. Residents have received a string of “boil water” notices due to mistakes made at the plant.
Most worrisome, however, is a new report that indicates elevated levels of lead in Flint children under the age of 5. Lead has a detrimental impact on development, and its increased presence in Flint’s kids should not be taken lightly.
The state Department of Environmental Quality insists the water has been thoroughly tested and is safe.
But, again, residents who see and smell foul water coming from their tap can be forgiven if they doubt those assurances.
Gov. Rick Snyder, working with an unnamed private donor, recently distributed about 1,500 filters to Flint water customers. The filters remove chemical compounds as well as lead.
That seems a good temporary solution at least. But thousands more are needed. State Sen. Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, is asking the state to find the funds for 15,000 filters to distribute to all water system customers.
That is a reasonable request, and may bridge residents until next year, when the city is expected to connect to a new regional water pipeline from Lake Huron.
The other option is to reconnect to the Detroit water system.
Whatever choice is made, the solution should be put in place quickly. If the elevated lead levels discovered by pediatricians at the Hurley Medical Center are linked to the water supply, then this is a public health emergency that demands an urgent response.
Flint residents are paying for water, and have the right to expect it to be clean and drinkable. They should not have to spend additional money each month to purchase bottled water.
The decision to disconnect Flint from Detroit water lines was made under the state’s watch. The state has a responsibility to find a fix, and soon.