Why Did Flint Switch to River Water Despite Safety Concerns?

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In summary, the people of Flint, Michigan, ended up with contaminated drinking water due to a local decision by the city government to switch to using the Flint River as their drinking water source. Problems began to surface when residents began to complain about the taste, odor, and color of their tap water as well as side effects like rashes and hair loss. It was not until October 2015, after reports revealed an increase in lead-in-blood levels among Flint residents and children in particular, that Governor Snyder ordered the city to stop using the river water and return to Detroit's supply. The state is facing multiple lawsuits related to the water crisis.
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Astronuc
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How the people of Flint, Mich., ended up with contaminated drinking water
http://news.yahoo.com/how-the-peopl...th-contaminated-drinking-water-043602916.html

Flint residents began complaining about the taste, odor and color of their tap water as well as side effects like rashes and hair loss within a month after the city switched its drinking water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River in April 2014. But it wasn’t until October 2015 — after reports revealed an increase in lead-in-blood levels among Flint residents and children in particular — that Snyder finally ordered Flint to stop using the river water and return to Detroit’s supply.
. . . .
Flint previously purchased its drinking water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. And despite the fact that the KWA pipeline would not be complete for about three more years, in April 2014 Flint severs ties with the DWSD and begins supplying its residents with water from the Flint River. Flint residents soon begin to complain about cost and quality of water.
As far as I can tell, it was a local/municipal decision, so why it's a problem, or crisis, for the governor, is not clear to me. Maybe I'm wrong, but the state government/administration did not force the Flint government to make a really bad and stupid choice of supplying contaminated water to its citizens.

So what's the story here?

The mayor Dayne Walling did have the audacity to run for re-election.
June, 2014 - Then-Mayor Dayne Walling rebuffs residents’ concerns about the river water, insisting, “It’s a quality, safe product. I think people are wasting their precious money buying bottled water.”
- despite the lead and whatever chemicals are in it.

Apparently there was some disagreement between Flint and DWSD?
http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2013/04/state_gives_flint_ok_t.html

The article doesn't explain why Flint felt the need to go elsewhere for water.

I worked in a water department, and before a source of water was considered, it was thoroughly tested, and we tested multiple times a day for quality, and probably monthly for detailed chemical analysis at random sites on the system.
 
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  • #2
Astronuc said:
As far as I can tell, it was a local/municipal decision, so why it's a problem, or crisis, for the governor, is not clear to me. Maybe I'm wrong, but the state government/administration did not force the Flint government to make a really bad and stupid choice of supplying contaminated water to its citizens.

So what's the story here?
My understanding is that due to budget problems, the city government was taken over by the state and a group of state appointed trustees made the key decisions. Still, at ground level, it doesn't explain why the water was not treated.
 
  • #3
russ_watters said:
the city government was taken over by the state
Ah, hence the state-appointed emergency manager.

On March 25, 2013, then-state Treasurer Andy Dillon and Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, held a telephone conversation about “Flint water supply alternatives,” according to records obtained by the Free Press under FOIA.

Later that evening, the Flint City Council, which was under a state-appointed emergency manager, voted 7-1 in favor of a switch in the source of its water supply from the City of Detroit to a new Karegnondi Water Authority, a move that would ultimately lead to Flint using corrosive water from the Flint River as an interim source, which produced drinking water with unsafe levels of lead.
Still, what were these people thinking? Or perhaps they weren't.
 
  • #4
Does Michigan require yearly water quality reports? Shouldn't something like high levels of lead been discovered then even if they weren't during the initial site selection? I guess this link explains it somewhat, the supply was very corrosive and was leeching lead from service lines (assuming that wouldn't show up in water quality reports):

http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/11/health/toxic-tap-water-flint-michigan/

According to a class-action lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Quality wasn't treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. Therefore, the water was eroding the iron water mains, turning water brown.

But what residents couldn't see was far worse. About half of the service lines to homes in Flint are made of lead and because the water wasn't properly treated, lead began leaching into the water supply, in addition to the iron.

City now faces multiple lawsuits, and the DEQ resigned.
 
  • #5
Student100 said:
Does Michigan require yearly water quality reports? Shouldn't something like high levels of lead been discovered then even if they weren't during the initial site selection? I guess this link explains it somewhat, the supply was very corrosive and was leeching lead from service lines (assuming that wouldn't show up in water quality reports):
As an engineer, this baffles me. The job of "water supplier" only has two components:
1. Provide enough.
2. Make sure it is safe to drink.

If the report that preventing this would only have required $100 a day of treatment is correct, somebody or everybody must have simply ignored task #2.

To answer your questions more directly thouh, no it is not difficult to pre-identify these problems.
 
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Dennis Sanders has a good run-down on this: http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2016/01/02/a-tragedy-with-many-fathers/
 
  • #8
Astronuc said:
As far as I can tell, it was a local/municipal decision, so why it's a problem, or crisis, for the governor, is not clear to me. Maybe I'm wrong, but the state government/administration did not force the Flint government to make a really bad and stupid choice of supplying contaminated water to its citizens.
Yes, as common sense would dictate. Schools, water, the sheriff, garbage. That's what local municipalities do.
 
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Flint official: State overruled plan for corrosion control
http://news.yahoo.com/flint-official-state-ordered-no-corrosion-control-213723634.html

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — An official with Flint's water plant said Tuesday he had planned to treat the drinking water with anti-corrosive chemicals after the city began drawing from the Flint River but was overruled by a state environmental regulator.
. . . .
Glasgow said Prysby told him a year of water testing was required before a decision could be made on whether corrosion controls were needed, which the state DEQ has since acknowledged was a misreading of federal regulations on preventing lead and copper pollution. . . .

"I did have some concerns and misgivings at first," Glasgow said before a joint legislative committee investigating the Flint water crisis. "But unfortunately, now that I look back, I relied on engineers and the state regulators to kind of direct the decision. I looked at them as having more knowledge than myself."
I wonder how many times this has happened - again and again?
 
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  • #12
That's like crash testing your own car...
 
  • #13
Depends on what "testing" means in this context. Testing the river water, directly from the river for a year before connection to the public, good idea, or testing the water as it flows through the pipes, not so good?
 
  • #14
mheslep said:
Depends on what "testing" means in this context. Testing the river water, directly from the river for a year before connection to the public, good idea, or testing the water as it flows through the pipes, not so good?
Seems to me the Flint Emergency Manager must bare the responsibility for the water problem, if the title "Manager" means, as it seems, the chief executive responsible for Flint at the time. If one doesn't like the emergency manager appointments, then responsibility lies with the prior elected executives of Flint who ruined the finances of the city. The state government of Michigan, no state government, can not oversee the hundreds of water districts any more than a state can oversee every local garbage pickup, school district, or county cop. States and the Federal Government can make rules but they don't scale to detailed management.

Shifting the responsibility away from Flint is a sure way to have more Flints.
 

Related to Why Did Flint Switch to River Water Despite Safety Concerns?

1. What caused the Flint Water Crisis?

The Flint Water Crisis was caused by a series of decisions made by government officials in 2013. The city of Flint, Michigan, was facing financial difficulties and decided to switch its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River. However, the river water was not properly treated with corrosion control chemicals, causing lead from aging pipes to leach into the drinking water.

2. How did the Flint Water Crisis affect the residents?

The residents of Flint were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water, which can have serious health consequences, especially for children. The water also had a foul odor and taste, making it unpleasant to use for daily activities such as cooking and bathing. Many residents had to rely on bottled water for their daily needs, leading to financial strain for low-income households.

3. How long did the Flint Water Crisis last?

The Flint Water Crisis officially began in 2014 when the city switched its water source, but the full extent of the problem was not recognized until 2015. The crisis was not fully resolved until 2016, when the water source was switched back to the Detroit system and corrosion control measures were implemented.

4. What were the long-term health effects of the Flint Water Crisis?

The long-term health effects of the Flint Water Crisis are still being studied, but exposure to high levels of lead can lead to developmental delays, learning disabilities, and other serious health problems. The residents of Flint may also have experienced health issues related to exposure to other contaminants in the water, such as bacteria and disinfection byproducts.

5. Has the Flint Water Crisis been completely resolved?

The water quality in Flint has improved since the crisis, but it is not yet completely resolved. Many residents still do not trust the safety of their tap water and continue to rely on bottled water. The city is also still working to replace all of the lead pipes in the water system, a process that may take several more years to complete.

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