Snyder aide: Flint water delay costs $600K a month

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

A top aide to Gov. Rick Snyder told Flint and Genesee County officials Friday that the city council’s indecision on a long-term water source costs more than a half million dollars each month and risks “significant” water rate increases next year if something isn’t done soon.

Rich Baird, Snyder’s transformation manager and point man in the Flint water crisis, said the city’s stalling on selecting a long-term water source costs Flint an extra $600,000 each month because it pays for two water sources — the Great Lakes Water Authority from which it currently gets its treated water and the Karegnondi Water Authority from which it contractually would get water by 2019 to 2020.

Flint would be stuck with higher rates that come with short-term contracts with the city’s current water supplier, Baird added at a meeting of the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee. The Great Lakes Water Authority also would take over Flint’s debt obligation for construction of the Karegnondi Water Authority project under the 30-year contract that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is pushing.

“They chose to postpone the vote in June and again in July and to not offer any alternative recommendations to the long-term source water issue,” he said about the Flint City Council. “So given that the city of Flint is paying for two water sources and does not have a favorable long-term contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority, lack of action on this issue is costing the city an extra $600,000 each month.”

None of the Flint or county officials reacted to Baird’s comments. He made them as part of an update on a federal lawsuit the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality filed against the city council in late June. The Snyder administration argued in its federal lawsuit that the elected council members had endangered the public health by failing to approve a long-term drinking water source.

The city’s water became contaminated with lead after state-appointed emergency managers switched Flint’s drinking water source in April 2014 from the Detroit area water system to the Flint River. When state environmental regulators failed to order that the water be treated with anti-corrosion chemicals, the city’s aging pipes leached lead and resulted in a switch back to the Detroit area system in October 2015.

Weaver has recommended the council approve the 30-year contract with the Detroit area Great Lakes authority in part to ensure the cleanest water at the most inexpensive price.

If the Flint City Council continues to delay its vote on the 30-year contract offer, the city’s water and sewer fund reserves are expected to be tapped out by the end of 2018. That “will necessitate a significant rate increase for residents and businesses if this is not resolved,” Baird said without specifying an amount.

The long-term deal would be a huge savings for the city, costing $12.1 million a year compared to $21 a year, according to the state’s court filing. The water source choice is also tied to the $100 million that Congress approved for Flint in December and which the state is waiting to give the city.

Flint already pays some of the highest water rates in the nation, about $53.84 per month on the water portion of residents’ monthly bill, according to a report from Raftelis Financial Consultants of Missouri. That estimate did not include sewer costs.

A 2016 report from Food and Water Watch that surveyed the country’s 500 biggest water systems said Flint residents paid almost double the national average for water and the highest rates in the country despite the city’s water being undrinkable without a filter. State and local officials still urge Flint residents not to drink the city’s tap water without a filter.

Baird says he has met with all nine city council members and had follow-up meetings with all but two because one was unavailable “due to incarceration” and the other because of a cataract surgery.