State partly complies with post-Flint recommendations

Associated Press

Lansing – Michigan environmental regulators did a better job reviewing potential changes in tap water sources or treatment in the wake of Flint’s water crisis, but they failed to fully comply with a recommendation to verify that utilities sampled the correct homes for lead, state auditors said Wednesday.

Their report was a follow-up to a 2016 audit that said staffers in the Department of Environmental Quality’s drinking water office made crucial errors as Flint began using a different water source that would become contaminated with lead.

Tiondra Green, top left, places a case of bottled water onto the back of a pickup truck as her coworkers form a line to hand off cases of water,on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, at Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, Mich.

The new report from Auditor General Doug Ringler said the agency improved its oversight and monitoring of local water systems that switch water supplies or treatment options, correcting what had been a “material” condition – the most serious finding. Three less serious “reportable” conditions were partially addressed, according to the follow-up report.

Auditors again flagged the DEQ for continuing to rely on municipal and other water systems to certify that they meet sampling requirements, rather than independently verifying that the chosen homes are appropriate. The department said it would be impractical to visit more than 4,000 houses a year and inspect the pipes to see if they are made of lead.

Auditors countered that the DEQ could randomly pick a select number of homes to visit. The agency responded by noting that Michigan’s new toughest-in-the-country lead rules, which were adopted following the contamination in Flint, require preliminary and final inventories of lead service lines and other components of community water supplies by 2020 and 2025. The department also said relying on water supplies to certify their sampling locations is consistent with other states in the Great Lakes region.

The DEQ is committed to helping water systems comply with federal and state regulations, said spokesman Scott Dean.

“The recently released audit demonstrates that several of the recommendations have been implemented, resulting in increased oversight,” he said.

Drinking water utilities are required to test for lead. Often, a small number of homeowners are given instructions and asked to provide samples of their water, which is then analyzed by regulators. The 2016 audit said the state failed to ensure that Flint drew enough water samples for testing from high-risk homes with lead pipes or fixtures.

The follow-up report said the DEQ did not conduct enough surveillance visits at 496, or 36 percent, of Michigan’s 1,388 water systems operated by municipalities, subdivisions and other entities. The department said because the frequency of such visits is not mandated by law, it used its resources to instead address a backlog of legally required sanitary surveys.