Flint reconnects to Detroit water system

Jim Lynch and Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Flint is now reconnected to Detroit’s water system —- a move local residents hope will eventually solve longstanding concerns about the safety of the city’s water.

Officials with the city of Flint and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department made the announcement Friday afternoon, but also stressed that it may take time for all of the lingering issues with the water to be resolved.

“While the actual switch by Flint to Detroit’s water will happen immediately, it is expected that the thorough transition from Flint River water to Detroit water will be complete in approximately three weeks,” the two municipal bodies said in a joint press release.

“Residents in Flint can expect to see some discoloration as well as noticing some taste and odor issues during the transition from Flint River water to water from Detroit as sections of pipe are cleared, valves are turned and the system is pressurized with the reintroduction of Detroit water.”

For months, residents have resorted to bottled water for drinking and cooking. Many hoped for Flint to return to the Detroit water system, whose source is Lake Huron, and their wish came true Friday.

“This should give people some kind of hope,” said Georgiana Logan, an official with the House of Prayer outreach ministry in Flint. Three times this year, her organization has collected bottled water to hand out to those in need. Each time, they dispensed more than 500 cases.

At a news conference announcing the reconnection Friday, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling thanked a host of people, including Gov. Rick Snyder, the state Legislature and the C.S. Mott Foundation. Those three groups helped pull together the $12 million necessary to purchase water for Flint residents for the next 12 months or more.

The mayor also thanked the men and women who work in the city’s water department “who have worked tirelessly to get us to this point so quickly.”

“All the work that had to get done with the transmission lines, with the testing, with the cleaning so that today, at 5 p.m., clean water from Detroit will begin flowing back into Flint’s system,” Walling said.

In addition, Flint’s move to reach a permanent water solution will get a boost from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency experts. The federal agency said Friday it has created a Flint Safe Drinking Water Task Force that will work with both city officials and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality going forward.

The EPA experts will help with the transition to the Detroit water system, consult on corrosion control efforts, and help Flint switch over to a new water authority sometime in 2016 — all to ensure water arriving in Flint homes does not contain dangerous levels of lead.

“EPA is committed to working with our state and local partners to ensure a safe and reliable drinking water supply for the residents of Flint, Michigan,” said Susan Headman, EPA’s Region 5 administrator, in a Friday statement. “The formation of this task force continues our commitment to providing technical assistance to the City of Flint and the State of Michigan.”

The reconnection comes on the heels of several tumultuous weeks for Flint residents. In September, local health officials released findings showing high levels of lead exposure among the city’s children.

An analysis conducted by a Hurley Medical Center researcher in Flint showed that in some areas lead levels in children’s blood doubled and, in two local ZIP codes, tripled — all since the city began drawing its water from the Flint River in the spring of 2014.

Cash-strapped Flint turned to the river for water as a way to save money. The decision was made under the leadership of an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration.

But almost immediately, there were problems and public health fears began to escalate recently over news reports about lead contamination. It led state and city officials to opt for reconnecting to the Detroit water system, the previous supplier of Flint’s drinking water, which uses Lake Huron as its source. The reconnection to Detroit is a temporary measure until Flint can finish the construction of its own pipeline to Lake Huron for a regional water authority.

“The state welcomes the continued help and counsel of our federal partners,” said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Brad Wurfel. “We have been working with them on the challenges in Flint for months and the formalization of their support is in our opinion good news.”

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