Fire hydrant photo shows off Flint’s water woes

The Detroit News

A photo was shared through emails in September among state environmental workers after a state Treasury Department employee alerted them to the image of a flushing of a fire hydrant that released rust-colored water apparently for hours.

“All, this photo was taken in the city of Flint, on Corunna Rd east of Ballenger Hwy. This is allegedly after five hours of flushing. Just by looking at the amount of water in the grass and on the road, it has definitely been open for a while,” the Treasury’s Robert Widigan wrote in the Sept. 17 email.

Another Treasury Department employee sought answers later that day from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“Liane: I tried calling you yesterday and I understand that you plan to return to the office tomorrow. Please call me to discuss this photo taken in Flint,” the Treasury’s Randall Byrne wrote in a follow-up email.

Liane Shekter Smith, then the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance’s chief, pressed her staff in response, including Stephen Busch, state DEQ’s Lansing regional director overseeing the Flint system. Shekter Smith has since been fired amid Flint’s water crisis. Busch remains on suspension pending further investigation.

“I just spoke with Randy with treasury. He has some questions regarding flint, and I suggested he call you. Heads up,” Shekter Smith wrote.

The email exchange was among 24,000 pages of documents reviewed by The News this week as part of an investigation into Flint’s lead-contaminated drinking water disaster.