Whitmer: Flint needs bottled water until pipes replaced
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Michigan’s lead-in-water standard in 2025 will be 10 parts per billion. It will be 12 parts per billion.
Lansing — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday she is committed to ensuring Flint residents continue getting free bottled water until the city finishes replacing its lead service lines.
But she declined to say whether she’ll push to resume state funding when donated supplies run out.
“I think at this juncture, it’s too early to answer that question with any specificity,” Whitmer told reporters at an unrelated event in Lansing. “What I will say is that until all the pipes are replaced, we’ve got to make sure that people have clean water to drink.”
Nestle Waters North America is expected to provide free bottled water to Flint residents through April as officials work to replace underground lead pipes in the wake of the city’s water contamination crisis.
As a candidate, Whitmer criticized a 2018 permit renewal that allows Nestle to pump up to 400 gallons of Michigan groundwater per minute for its Ice Mountain bottled water brand. She also vowed to help cities across the state replace lead water pipes, a process that Flint is currently undertaking, and restore bottled water service to Flint.
As of December, the city had replaced nearly 7,000 out of 18,300 lead or galvanized steel water pipes it had identified, and Mayor Karen Weaver said Flint hopes to complete the work by the end of 2019.
“If it is necessary to continue providing bottled water” in Flint beyond April, “I will make sure that happens and will work with the mayor to do that,” Whitmer said. “But at this juncture, we do have that guarantee for the next few months, and the work is still moving forward fast on replacing all the pipes.”
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced in April 2018 that the state would no longer pay to provide bottled water in Flint, citing nearly two years of test results showing falling lead levels in city tap water.
Contrary to a widely circulated report from which her transition team later backed away, Whitmer has not said whether she will seek state funding to continue bottled water in Flint when and if Nestle stops providing it.
Recent state testing shows lead levels in Flint water remain below the federal action level of 15 parts per billion and a tougher 12 ppb state standard set to take effect in 2025. Between July 1 and Dec. 31, Flint water samples tested at or below 4 parts per billion for lead, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
But many residents remain wary of the water amid fears that pipe replacement efforts could dislodge lead flakes and cause temporary spikes. State regulators failed to ensure the city used corrosion control chemicals when it began drawing drinking water from the Flint River in April 2014, when the city was run by a state-appointed emergency manager.
“Trust was not broken overnight, and it’s not something you can earn overnight,” Whitmer said. “But in all my work with the city of Flint, with Mayor (Karen) Weaver, with City Council, with Congressman (Dan) Kildee, we’re making sure we’re putting the health and welfare of the people of the city first.”