State: Flint will reconnect to Detroit water system

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Flint — The City of Flint will reconnect with the Detroit water system in an effort to get safe drinking water to its residents amid widespread concerns over lead contamination.

Gov. Rick Snyder made the announcement Thursday that the city would stop getting its water from the Flint River, saying the cost to rehook up with the Detroit Sewerage and Water Department would amount to $12 million. He wants the Legislature to approve a $6 million grant from the state, while the Mott Foundation would donate $4 million and the city of Flint would pay $2 million.

“This effort today is the result of people coming together to solve a problem,” Snyder said in a statement. “I appreciate Detroit’s willingness to reconnect with Flint, the Mott Foundation’s generous commitment, and the dedication of all parties to come together to protect Flint families and children.”

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said city residents could begin to see water from the Detroit system in two weeks.

“A switch back to Detroit is the fastest way to protect public health and stabilize Flint’s water system,” Walling said. “The city of Flint will contribute $2 million toward the cost. ... And that’s money well-spent.”

But some elected officials still criticized the state’s effort. Congressman Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, agreed that reconnecting to the Detroit water system is the correct move, but not extracting $2 million from the city of Flint in the process.

“Flint is a financially distressed city, and it should not have to empty out its bank account to pay for the state’s failures,” Kildee said in a statement. “The decision to switch to the Flint River water source was made while the city was under state emergency management, and now it is incumbent on Governor Snyder and the state to fix — and pay — for the problem they created.

“Flint paying anything for the problem that the state created in the first place means that other improvements, including to the city’s aging water infrastructure system, could be delayed. This is especially troublesome considering that the state of Michigan has consistently cut tens of millions of dollars of revenue sharing to the city of Flint in recent years.”

The announcement came after weeks of rising tensions centering on the public’s health. Last week, state officials announced a series of steps being taken to deal with lead-contaminated water in homes across the city.

The first of the steps was the immediate testing of water in the schools, and early results have shown lead above acceptable levels in several of them.

Inspectors took 37 water samples from 13 schools, and four samples produced worrisome results. The three schools with lead levels above the federal standard flagged by the testing were Eisenhower Elementary, Barnell STEM Academy and Freeman Elementary.

Dan Wyant, director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, said schools are not covered under federal testing guidelines. So there is no baseline of prior testing information with which to compare results.

“This data underscores the need for a complete and thorough evaluation of the plumbing system in each school,” Wyant said.

State officials plan to contact all schools in the state, urging them to assess their own water situation regarding lead levels. Facilities built in the last quarter-century are unlikely to have lead issues, but others build before the mid-1980s may have lead connections that may pose a problem.

"Schools that have lead infrastructure should be testing," Wyant said.

City residents have been dealing with water problems for roughly a year-and-a-half, since the city began using the Flint River. The troubles have included tap water with strange coloring, smell and taste. In the last two weeks, those concerns were dramatically heightened by studies that show lead levels in some children have risen since the switch from Detroit’s water system in April 2014.

Those studies showed that, in some areas, lead levels had doubled and, in two zip codes, the levels tripled.

The decision to switch to the Flint River came when the city was under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Snyder. It was seen as a cost-saving move after years of officials and residents complaining about DWSD rates.

Flint River water, however, has been shown to be more corrosive than the Lake Huron water provided by Detroit. When that river water sits in lead plumbing connections, which are found in many of Flint’s older houses in lower-income neighborhoods, it takes in the harmful substance.

Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and, at high levels, can lead to seizures, coma and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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