Wozniak: Water woes in Flint and beyond

Lisa Wozniak

When Gov. Rick Snyder approached the Legislature to make his 2015 budget recommendations, he proclaimed that it would be the “Year of Water” — a year in which his administration would focus on ensuring clean water for all Michiganders. Former Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant declared, “Michigan wants to be recognized as leaders.”

Two years later, Michigan has received recognition for Snyder’s “Year of Water,” no question.

Residents of one of our state’s largest cities have been poisoned by their tap water, causing irreparable harm to a generation of children in Flint. Flint switched its drinking water supply under the direction of Snyder’s appointed emergency manager in April of 2014. By July of 2015, state officials knew of elevated lead levels in the city’s drinking water, remarking in internal email, “Apparently this is going to be a thing now,” and callously stating publicly that “anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.”

Clearly, the administration was relaxed. It took three more months for the governor to acknowledge the problem, and then another three months to declare a state of emergency. Now, Flint’s water is a crisis on the national level.

Snyder’s failure to protect our state’s water does not stop with Flint. Lake Erie suffered from the largest and most-severe algae bloom in recorded history last year, and blooms continue to grow from Saginaw Bay to Lake Macatawa. Despite Michiganders losing access to their drinking water as a result of this green sludge in 2014, the only attempts to address the issue from the Snyder administration have been rehashed plans that are incapable of solving the problem.

Michigan’s over-reliance on dirty, outdated coal contributes to mercury pollution that causes fish advisories in our Great Lakes — so much so that pregnant women, children and the elderly could be poisoned by eating it.

Since 2012, Snyder has proclaimed the need to transition away from coal — an admirable goal that has received our praise. Imagine our surprise when the governor recently endorsed a House plan that barely achieves status quo increases in renewable energy — a clear indication that this administration is redefining success in light of a legislature they can no longer influence.

As we await the governor’s 2016 State of the State address, we cannot help but reflect on our complete disappointment in his handling of these issues. As if mercury in our water and water shutoffs due to toxic algae weren’t enough, the fact that this administration took responsibility for running a city government, made a critical decision about that city’s infrastructure, and then ignored the facts when it was clear their decision resulted in the poisoning of the city’s water supply. This is unforgivable.

In his State of the State address tonight, Snyder must take full responsibility for these failures and lay out immediate, tangible steps toward ensuring Michigan’s water is protected. This starts with returning clean water to the city of Flint and continues with tackling the other challenges facing Michigan’s water head on.

Michigan cannot afford another “Year of Water” if it looks anything like the failures of 2015.

Lisa Wozniak is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.