Mayor Karen Weaver’s recommendation that Flint remain with the Great Lakes Water Authority rather than switching once again to a new drinking water source is the best choice for a city that needs both stability and trust in the safety of its water.
Flint had been set to switch to the new Karegnondi Water Authority’s pipeline, which will draw water from Lake Huron when it is finished.
It’s been a longtime goal of the city of 100,000 to separate from the former Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which serves most of the rest of southeast Michigan.
Flint believed it was being overcharged by that system, and that’s why it joined many of its neighboring communities in forming the Karegnondi authority.
The switch was finally approved by a state-appointed emergency manager, with support from the city council. But Flint’s contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority ran out before the new system was ready.
A state-appointed emergency manager, with the support of the Flint City Council, decided to use the Flint River as an interim water source, and that set off the disastrous chain of events that ended with prolonged high lead levels in Flint’s drinking water.
Weaver, who had supported moving to Karegnondi, now rightly sees changing water sources again is too risky.
After an arduous process, Flint’s water is approaching potability. While filters are still recommended, lead levels have dropped in most places to near or below safe levels.
The city is now at work replacing lead service lines, which were the source of the toxins that leached into the system when improperly treated Flint River water moved through them.
While Karegnondi may have been a good idea at one time, Flint must stick to a strategy that is showing progress. It can’t take the chance that the new water will also react negatively to the existing pipes.
Weaver is recommending approval of a 30-year deal with Great Lakes that allows the city to remain a member of the Karegnondi authority, and provides it with $7 million a year in credits to pay off its portion of the KWA debt. Great Lakes says the pact will save Flint $1.8 million over its life.
That’s not nearly the savings Flint had hoped for in switching to Karegnondi, but the watch words here should be safety first.
Karegnondi will become the backup source of water for Flint, as well as for Great Lakes. That could save the Metro Detroit system $600 million, and some of those savings will be realized by Flint customers.
Along with the council, the deal must be approved by the Flint Receivership Transition Board, a panel appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to monitor the city’s post-emergency financial management.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is endorsing the deal, saying it is in the best interest of public health.
That seems clearly the case. Approving this deal will aid the cause of guaranteeing Flint residents safe drinking water for the long-term.