Motion seeks to force Flint bottled water delivery

Jennifer Chambers

Attorneys representing Flint residents filed an emergency motion Wednesday asking a judge to force the state of Michigan and the city of Flint to comply with his court order to deliver bottled water door-to-door in Flint.

U.S. District Judge David Lawson issued an order last month that calls for four cases of bottled water per resident be delivered each week if officials can’t prove faucet filters are working to remove harmful lead.

Officials with the Natural Resources Defense Council said on Wednesday the state is ignoring the order requiring immediate action to secure safe drinking water for Flint residents.

Lawson ordered the state and city to respond to the emergency motion by noon Friday. The state has acknowledge it’s only dropping off water only at residents’ requests.

“Forty days after Judge David Lawson issued a preliminary injunction intended to alleviate the lead drinking water crisis, the state and city have not complied. Nor do they appear to have any intention to do so,” said Henry Henderson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Program.

“Yet it remains undisputed that unfiltered tap water remains unsafe, despite tests showing Flint tap water may be improving.”

Michael J. Steinberg, legal director for ACLU of Michigan, said the state has thumbed its nose at the people of Flint by taking away their local democracy and poisoning their water more than two years ago.

“Now the state is essentially thumbing its nose at a federal judge by ignoring a court order issued six weeks ago to either deliver bottled water to residents or verify that they have working water filters. The people of Flint are desperate for clean water and cannot afford any more delays,” Steinberg said.

Henderson said according to status reports filed on Dec. 16, the state and city have failed to verify filter installation in many homes, have not expanded their limited water delivery program, and had not mailed a public notice required by the court nearly six weeks ago.

Anna Heaton, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said the teams of state workers and Flint residents who perform filter installation, maintenance and education have visited more than 13,000 homes since the judge’s order was issued in November, and the state continues to ramp up those efforts.

Recruitment of Flint residents for these jobs is ongoing, with the goal of 160 outreach workers trained and working in each neighborhood by the end of January, Heaton said.

Requests for delivery of bottled water and filters are met within 24 hours, Heaton said. Nine water distribution sites remain open with their regular hours throughout the holidays so that every resident who needs resources can obtain them.

“We continue to work toward compliance with Judge Lawson’s order. The state does not currently possess the network necessary to immediately provide bottled water delivery to each household,” Heaton said.

“Continued and increased use of filtered water — which has been determined safe by government and independent experts for cooking and drinking for all populations — is necessary to continue the restoration of the Flint water system.”

In the state’s report issued last Friday, assistant state Attorney General Richard Kuhl said notices are being mailed to each of the more than 40,000 users of the Flint water supply, providing information in multiple languages regarding water quality and filter use and maintenance.

The state had discussions with six private vendors in an attempt to identify entities that can provide the door-to-door water service to comply with the order, state officials reported to Lawson.

On Friday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals also refused to halt Lawson’s order while the state and city appealed it.

The appeals court said in a 2-1 decision that Flint residents continue to suffer irreparable harm from the lack of reliable access to safe drinking water and many residents who rely on improperly installed filters continue to be at risk of lead exposure.

Residents, meanwhile, have been instructed to use only filtered or bottled water for consumption, and researchers have encouraged those practices until further notice from state or federal officials. No amount of lead is considered safe.

In a massive 452-page motion filed last month, 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 orthophosphate to coat its pipes and flush out lead particulates, attorneys for the Snyder administration wrote in their motion.