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State officials appeal bottled water delivery in Flint

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Attorneys for state officials are appealing a court order requiring them and Flint officials to deliver bottled water to Flint residents at home.

State officials sought a stay of a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge David Lawson that state and city officials provide four cases of bottled water per resident each week if officials can’t prove faucet filters are working to remove harmful lead.

Lawson denied the state’s request for a stay on Friday, saying the state had “the mistaken notion” the door-to-door delivery of bottled water will go to all Flint residents.

Nathan A. Gambill, an assistant Attorney General, filed an appeal statement Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals of Lawson’s order that denied the stay.

Lawson ruled on Nov. 10 the city’s water resource sites were insufficient for the daily needs of Flint residents while the water remains unsafe to drink without filters.

“The main thrust of the ordered relief is the proper installation and maintenance of tap water filters. For those homes that have properly installed and maintained water filters in place — which is the vast majority of residences, if the state defendants’ witnesses are to be believed — bottled water delivery is not necessary and was not ordered,” Lawson wrote in an order filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Lawson said simply handing out water filters does not ensure they are effective in reducing lead content of drinking water to an acceptable level.

“There must be a protocol in place to see that the filters are installed and maintained properly. Otherwise, the presence of a filter alone may cause the more insidious problem of false security in the suitability of the tap water for drinking. Second, for many without a proper filter in place, the difficulty of obtaining drinking water is significant, as the testimony demonstrated,” Lawson said.

On Nov. 21, state officials filed an emergency motion asking the Court of Appeals to block Lawson’s order. That court has not yet ruled.

According to state officials, 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.

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

JChambers@detroitnews.com