Snyder signs 3-day lead-contaminated water alert law

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Flint — Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation Friday requiring cities to warn residents of dangerous lead levels in drinking water within three days of notification by the state of contamination.

The law is the first piece of legislation stemming from the Flint water crisis — separate from the $234 million in appropriations from the state legislature — to be signed into law.

“This is an important first step,” Snyder said. “This is not the last piece of legislation we should see on this. This is a good start of getting faster notification to the public when there is a water issue.”

The bill that lead to the law was sponsored by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, a Flint Democrat and former city council member.

“This is a great day not just for Flint, but the state of Michigan,” Neeley said. “This is a policy change in the way we look at water quality in the state.”

Neeley joined Snyder and other officials at the signing ceremony held Friday morning at the Grace Emmanuel Church in Flint.

On Thursday, Neeley said the goal of his bill is to strengthen water quality control in Michigan to ensure a water crisis like Flint’s will not happen in a Michigan community again.

“The water crisis in Flint has left the community and its allies reeling with a sense of urgency, and rightfully so,” Neeley said in a statement. “During this difficult time, I have valued the governor’s partnership in helping to steward legislation that will have a positive impact on the residents of Flint.”

Previously, owners or operators of public water plants were legally required to notify customers of any noncompliance with state drinking water standards, within 30 days, Neely said.

Under the new law, operators must issue a public advisory within three business days of notification from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The alerts may be disseminated via radio or television, notices delivered to customers or advisories posted in conspicuous areas throughout the community.

Neeley’s bill, which he introduced into the legislature in December 2015, was spurred by the Flint water crisis. On Dec. 8, 2016, the state House of Representatives passed the bill, 107-0. Six days later the state Senate approved with 37 in favor and one excused. It was sent to the governor for his signature about a week ago.

Flint began switched from using Detroit’s water system to using water from the Flint River as its primary drinking source in April 2014. At the time, the city was being run by an emergency manager.

Using the river’s water was meant to save the city money until it could link up with the newly formed Karegnondi Water Authority and its pipeline system that draws from Lake Huron.

Experts said state water regulators did not require the city to use proper corrosion control chemicals and the harsh river water leached lead from aging pipes. The switch also coincided with outbreaks of deadly Legionnaires’ disease.

Flint returned to the Detroit system in late 2015.

More than a dozen government officials have been charged with crimes related to the Flint water crisis. Last month, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges against Former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, former emergency manager Gerald Ambrose and two former city public works employees.

Earley, who who served as Flint’s emergency manager from 2013-15, was charged with false pretenses, conspiracy to commit false pretenses, misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty while in office. The charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

Recent testing of Flint water suggests lead levels have dropped, but residents in the city of roughly 100,000 residents continue to rely on bottled and filtered water for their daily needs.

cramirez@detroitnews.com