Outside Flint’s borders, but stuck with its water

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

On the worst days at Aaron Wilkinson’s house, the water looked like milk.

Across Menominee Avenue, where Joseph and Kelli Kus are raising four kids, the faucet spat big chunks of red and black sediment.

Burton resident Aaron Wilkinson shows one of the filters he's been using at his home. His home is on one of two streets within the city of Burton that receives its water from Flint.

Their water came from the Flint River — but they don’t live in Flint. They live half a block into the adjoining city of Burton, population 30,000, where 72 unfortunate addresses have been visited with all of the problems and none of the attention of the city only a few yards to their north.

The city of Flint on Friday reposted a list of 266 Flint water customers who live outside the city limits.

A note on the municipal website reminded the customers to have their water tested, and said they “may have also been affected by the water disaster in Flint and should be using the filters and bottled water being provided free of charge.”

On Menominee and on neighboring Cheyenne Avenue, two streets of small houses and plentiful American flags, residents were already well aware.

A few days earlier, Eleticia Flores was bundling her two granddaughters into the car for a trip to the fire station to pick up fresh bottles.

Wilkinson, a 24-year-old EMT, was displaying the $40 water filter he bought for himself before anyone offered to help, with its supposed six-month cartridges that last him only six weeks: “You can see how nasty it gets.”

Joseph Kus was describing the welts his wife gets on her back every time she takes a shower: “It looks like mosquito bites.”

Most of the addresses on the list are in Flint Township. A tiny pocket, the two blocks along with two lots on Red Arrow Road, are in Burton.

Like Flint, Burton signed on to the new Karegnondi Water Authority that’s scheduled to be operational this summer.

Unlike Flint, Burton does not have an emergency manager, and it buys its water from Genesee County. The county contracts with Detroit for water pumped from Lake Huron.

What that means to nearly everyone in Burton is that they don’t have to think about water any more than they think about oxygen.

What it means to Wilkinson is that he has to fill his dog’s water dish from the dispenser on his refrigerator, fitted with a reverse osmosis system.

Thor is a 1-year-old black Lab mix with a baseball bat for a tail. “I’m more scared about it for him,” Wilkinson said. “He’s a smaller person.”

Wilkinson’s girlfriend plays indoor soccer and showers at the facility as often as she can. His own showers have become sprints. He washes his dirty dishes at a friend’s house.

Officials: High lead levels too much for Flint filters

“I know a lot of people have it worse,” he said. As an EMT, he deals with real tragedy every day.

What’s galling is that he’s still being billed for water he can’t trust — and even more vexing, there’s a $120 surcharge for using Flint’s services outside the city limits.

The cluster near the southwest corner of Burton wound up on the neighboring system after the city incorporated in 1972. Burton didn’t have pipes in the area, so the residents opted for Flint water.

Burton mayor Paula Zelenko, whose city is partway through a five-year, $25 million project to replace its old and cranky cast iron pipes with PVC, said she “will be talking with Flint” about taking over Wilkinson’s neighborhood.

Wilkinson will be rooting for her.

So will the Kus family, though the kids are fans of the emergency provisions. They like to play with the empty water bottles.

Joseph, 3, and Joshua, 19 months, had an appointment for lead testing Thursday. Jade, 10, and Jayla, 7, will go in two weeks.

“You feel kind of powerless,” said Joseph, who stays home with the kids, a little white dog named Chi Chi and at least four sizes of plastic Tyrannosaurus Rexes.

“The news would report that OK, you can drink it. The next week, there’d be a boil water advisory.”

Meantime, the boys are unhappy because their baths are over quicker than a TV commercial — and the parents have worries the children wouldn’t understand.

“It’s like a germ thing,” Joseph said. “You can’t see it, but you know it’s there.”

Everybody gets rashes, said Kelli, who waits tables at the Big Boy in Grand Blanc.

She drinks a lot of water while she’s there, then comes home and breastfeeds Joshua. They’re all eating healthier than they did a year ago; at least diet is something they can control.

“What are you going to do?” Joseph asked.

He wasn’t expecting an answer, any more than he had expected problems to flow from a tap.



Detroit News Staff Writer Jim Lynch contributed.