Editorial: Flint still requires state assistance

The Detroit News

While the state has tried to rectify its part in the Flint water crisis, it still bears responsibility for finishing the job of making the city whole. Thanks to congressional action this week, more federal dollars will soon be flowing into Flint, but the state must still ensure residents who need it have safe water.

That’s what makes so delicate the state’s resistance to a federal court order demanding it still spend upwards of $10 million a month on bottled water for residents. In Flint homes where there is still any question of water safety, the state should deliver bottled water. Residents shouldn’t have to seek it out or request special delivery.

But not everyone needs continued bottled water. The water quality is improving in Flint, and as it does, the state should be allowed to scale back on the deliveries.

Recent testing by Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards, who first sounded the alarm on Flint’s water condition, shows significant progress in the vast majority of residences. His testing can’t replace the federal testing standards under the Lead and Copper Rule, but the federal judge shouldn’t ignore those test results altogether.

That’s what the state has argued, and why it’s appealing the judge’s ruling.

The Flint water crisis was the fault of federal, state and local regulations. Failure occurred on all their watches. But the state and Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration should know they have to make Flint’s water again before the city and its residents will trust elected leaders – or their own water supply.

That may mean replacing a significant portion of the pipes, regardless how the testing levels come out. And it might mean a continuation of delivered bottled water into next year.

Currently, residents can go to designated sites and receive bottled water for free, or they can request special delivery to their homes.

Earlier this month, Edwards’ team of researchers said the quality of Flint’s water was improving and could meet federal lead standards.

In his voluntary testing, samples from more than 150 Flint homes in November showed just 6 percent were above 15 parts per billion, the federal action level for lead in drinking water. That’s an improvement from 9.7 percent in July, 15 percent in March, and 17 percent in August 2015.

Results this month from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality also showed 96 percent of samples taken last month from city taps at 83 Tier I sites had lead readings of 15 parts per billion or less.

But the real issue between residents and the state is one of trust, and that will require more work.

The court order might be onerous and federal testing requirements seem to be lagging the improved results Edwards and the state have seen, but the state must realize it has an ongoing commitment to meet the needs of Flint residents and restore their trust.

It is understandable that many residents are afraid to drink the water, no matter what the testing shows. Getting them past that will take more time, more infrastructure replacement and more bottled water.