Some Flint water sites to stay open indefinitely

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — The city will avoid closure of all of its water distribution sites after residents pressured government leaders to keep the bottled water flowing.

Mayor Karen Weaver, in partnership with Gov. Rick Snyder’s office and the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, announced Wednesday the city and state had reached an agreement to allow four water distribution sites, known as PODS, to remain open indefinitely.

Under a settlement reached earlier this year, the state “could start closing the PODS, and we know that all of the PODS were scheduled to close this September,” Weaver said.

“Well, I’m here to give you some different news: The residents have spoken out, we’ve talked about not wanting the PODS to close and that we don’t want the bottled water and filters to go away,” she said.

The agreement allows for four distribution sites to remain open under normal hours on each side of the city: Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in the 1st ward, Franklin Avenue Lot in the 4th Ward, West Court Street Church of God in the 6th Ward and Eastown Bowling Alley in the 9th Ward.

Five PODS will close and do so on two dates. The PODS located in the 2nd Ward at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church and the in the 3rd Ward at Calvary Missionary Baptist Church will close on Aug. 11. On Sept. 5, the PODS located at the Old Flint Famers’ Market, Grace Emmanuel Baptist Church and Lincoln Park United Methodist Church will close.

Home deliveries will also be discontinued on Aug. 11 but access- and functional-need deliveries will continue.

“One thing we can all agree on is that we don’t want to be on bottled water forever so we are heading in the right direction,” Weaver said.

The decision comes as the city has tested in the 90th percentile of homes below 15 parts per billion of lead content — the federal action level — for more than a year said Keith Creagh, director of Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “The city of Flint’s water quality has tested well below the federal Lead and Copper Rule for its second six-month period.”

Creagh said the city’s water is averaging 7 parts per billion for lead in the latest six-month test period.

“The system has made dramatic improvements where in 2016, the 90th percentile for city was testing at 20 parts per billion from January through June,” Creagh said.

He noted recent residential sampling has been coming in at 6 parts per billion.

“Make no mistake about it, Flint’s water quality has been restored,” said Rich Baird, senior adviser to the governor.

Baird said the state felt just because it could close all of the PODS it “doesn’t mean we should exercise that authority.”

Baird added the “all-in” cost for maintaining the distribution sites “is about $2 million a month,” and that it’s important for the state to have a timeline to end distribution. The costs Baird said, “relates to warehousing, and the equipment needed to move the water around the supply chain.”

Weaver reminded residents it is still important to use filters because construction crews continue replacing lead service lines throughout the city, some 2,520 pipes, which can shake loose lead particles.

“Our goal is 6,000 this year,” she said. “So while that work is being done, we want residents to continue using the filters.”

Wallace Hill III, pastor of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church and spokesman for the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, said even though the water quality is improving, “we don’t want to give people a determined closure date.”

“Because people will start to horde water and then the water they have will go bad,” Hill said. “One of the primary goals of this partnership, is to ensure people that they will have access to good, clean water.”

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 into the water and Flint switched back to the Detroit area system in October 2015 as a result.