Lawyers: Flint residents struggling to get enough water

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Lawyers suing on behalf of Flint residents urged the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Monday to not block a court order requiring door-to-door bottled water delivery in Flint while the city’s unfiltered tap water remains unsafe to drink.

Attorney Sarah C. Tallman with the Natural Resources Defense Council said 10 months after widespread lead contamination was discovered in tap water and an emergency was declared, some residents are still struggling to obtain enough clean water to meet their daily needs.

And the “harsh, on-the-ground reality” in Flint is that many volunteers who initially swept in to fill gaps left by the government response to the water crisis have grown exhausted, Tallman said, and have increasingly gone home.

“Winter is approaching, and as temperatures drop, residents’ struggles to hunt down daily drinking water will worsen,” Tallman wrote in her brief. “State officials’ own witness admitted that Flint’s tap water remains unsafe. Any further delay in ensuring adequate access to safe water is too long. A stay should not issue.”

Tallman filed her response after state officials filed an emergency motion last Tuesday asking the appeals court to block a Nov. 10 preliminary injunction that the state of Michigan and Flint provide four cases per resident each week of home-delivered bottled water if they can’t prove faucet filters are working to remove harmful lead.

In their emergency motion, 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.

According state officials, U.S. District Judge David 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.