State cited Flint ‘deficiencies,’ then ended free water
Lansing – Less than three weeks before Gov. Rick Snyder announced the state would end free bottled water service for Flint residents, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality warned the city still had “significant deficiencies” with its water system oversight and operations.
The March 21 letter from Surface Water Treatment Engineer Robert London to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver detailed 10 unresolved issues and incomplete recommendations first identified in a 2017 “sanitary survey” of the city’s water system.
The state environmental department “does not have confidence that the city can continue to demonstrate the technical, managerial and financial capacity necessary to consistently operate the water system in accordance” with the Michigan Safe Water Drinking Act, the letter said.
Snyder announced April 6 that the state would close bottled water distribution centers in Flint, citing 21 months of state testing that showed once-elevated lead water levels had fallen below federal standards.
But the decision was “beyond the pale,” considering the March letter warning of continuing deficiencies in the city’s water system, said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, who has argued the state should continue bottled water service until ongoing lead pipe replacement is complete.
“Stop telling people two different things,” Ananich said Thursday, noting the Snyder administration has struggled to rebuild trust in Flint, where residents were told tainted water was safe to drink after the city temporarily switched to Flint River water in April 2014.
“It may be meeting some federal standard that the governor has called dumb and dangerous, but if there are serious problems that could happen now or in the future, then the system needs to be fixed,” Ananich said.
Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said Thursday that the Flint water system is “producing very high quality drinking water and distributing it around the city, and that is backed up by both state and independent testing results.”
Flint switched back to Detroit water in late 2015 and intends to stick with that source rather than join the new Karegnondi Water Authority, as previously planned.
Lead levels have tested below 4 parts per billion so far this year in Flint, according to the state. That’s well below the federal action level of 15 parts per billion and the tougher 10 parts per billion standards Snyder has proposed.
“DEQ is working with the city to ensure the city’s ongoing operations can maintain the consistency of the locally-operated system,” Heaton said.
The environmental department letter said the city has not developed an emergency response plan or provided details about maintenance or operating procedures for water hydrants, valves, meters and service lines.
Flint also has not completed an inspection of a Cedar Street water resevoir, has not filled a vacant cross connection manager position and continues to struggle with water system staffing issues, according to the letter.
“The city has been unsuccessful in its attempts to recruit and hire critical water staff,” London wrote.
Weaver and other Flint leaders have criticized the Snyder administration’s decision to end bottled water service and threatened a possible lawsuit against the state.