State: Bottled water for Flint would hamper recovery

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A court order requiring door-to-door bottled water delivery in Flint could actually harm ongoing recovery efforts in the city because residents would use their taps less often, state officials allege in an emergency appeal to the U.S Appeals Court.

In a massive 452-page motion filed late Monday, attorneys for Michigan Treasurer Nick Khouri and the Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Board argued the best way to address Flint’s water issues is to repair the water distribution system, “which has been making a steady recovery precisely because residents are using it.”

Water must move through the system to enable the orthophosphate to coat its pipes and flush out lead particulates, attorneys for the Snyder administration say in their motion.

“Providing four cases of water per week to every Flint resident will dramatically decrease the amount of water moving through Flint’s system because residents will stop using their filters for drinking water and possibly replace other water needs with bottled water as well. This will slow recovery,” the motion says.

Earlier this year out of concern, the city held a flush initiative as well as installed automatic flushers in city hydrants to move old, stagnant water through the system.

The state is asking the appeal’s court for a ruling by Wednesday.

On Nov. 10, U.S. District Judge David Lawson in Detroit ruled the state of Michigan and Flint have to provide home-delivered bottled water to residents if they can’t prove faucet filters are working to remove harmful lead from the drinking water.

Granting the emergency stay of Lawson’s order would maintain the status quo pending appeal, state officials argue, and leave the relief efforts “to the on-the-ground professionals who are equipped to coordinate this multi-faceted federal/state/local response.”

In response to the emergency appeal, attorneys for the ACLU of Michigan, one of several plaintiffs in the case, ask that the emergency appeal be struck down because the state did not follow several federal rules of procedure for court filings.

In the motion, ACLU attorney Michael Steinberg said state or city officials can either install and maintain a faucet filter certified to remove lead or to deliver bottled water to Flint residents.

According to the state, Lawson’s order would be a five-fold increase over current efforts and require another 137 trucks, hiring at least 150 additional people and “a warehouse so large it is not clear if one even exists in the Flint area” at a cost of more than $11 million per month.

It also sets forth a compressed time frame with full compliance by Dec. 16, which state officials call “unreasonable and unachievable given available resources.”

State officials allege filtered water in Flint is safe to drink for everyone, and even unfiltered, the lead content in Flint’s water has been below the federal action level of 15 parts per billion since May. No amount of lead is considered safe to consume.

Lawson ordered the home delivery of four cases of water per resident each week unless state and city officials can verify each resident has a properly installed and maintained faucet water filter.

“The defendants need not deliver water to homes that have properly installed and maintained faucet water filters, as long as the defendants can monitor and verify the effectiveness of the filters,” Lawson wrote in his earlier 37-page opinion.

Lawson ruled the water resource sites were insufficient for the daily needs of Flint residents while the water remains unsafe to drink without lead filters.

“The fact that such items are available does not mean that they are reliably accessible or effective in furnishing safe drinking water to every household,” Lawson wrote. “Indeed, the endeavor of hunting for water has become a dominant activity in some Flint residents’ daily lives.”

The judge ordered state and city officials to file a report by Dec. 16 detailing how they are complying with his order