After years of living with undrinkable water, the city of Flint, Michigan was given 77.7 million dollars in funding to repair their water pipe system on April 15, according to ABC12 news. The city plans to use the money for a pipeline that connects to a secondary water source, various water quality monitoring projects, improvements to the city’s reservoir and pump stations as well as other water restoration projects. This zero percent interest loan, which essentially operates as a grant that is not expected to be paid back by the city, was given as a remainder of a 120 million dollar “loan” courtesy of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, according to The Root.
The water contamination began in 2014 when city officials of Flint began drawing water from the Flint River instead of Detroit’s river temporarily to save money while looking for a better regional water source. The Associated Press reported that residents of Flint, Michigan complained of the smell, color and taste of the water. Soon, health concerns such as rashes, hair loss and other ailments began to arise.
Some believed that Flint’s water crisis was merely a result of an ongoing problem. As Flint’s manufacturing economy began to decline, no jobs or companies came in to make up for the loss. Subsequently, the city’s tax base also declined. Then, as the city began to slip into financial crisis, the switch to a cheaper water source was put in place, marking the beginning of Flint’s ongoing crisis.
In January 2015, Detroit offered for Flint to reconnect to their water system, only for Flint officials to decline, claiming the water was safe. Later that year, doctors in the area began reporting high levels of lead in children’s blood. Soon after, Governor Rick Snyder pledged to take action, receiving millions of dollars in aid from the white house a year later. However, Flint never received the full amount of money promised, and for five years, the water remained dangerously contaminated with lead and copper.
The government-appointed civil rights commission in Michigan determined that race was a major factor in authorities’ slow response to the crisis, as Flint’s majority population is comprised of African-American and nonwhite residents. The report, which was 129 pages long when it was written three years into the crisis, cited, “historical, structural and systemic racism combined with implicit bias” in the authority’s slow response to recognize and respond to the contamination.
Two state officials and the Director of Human Services were later charged with evidence-tampering and involuntary manslaughter when the Michigan Attorney General launched an investigation into the crisis soon after a state of emergency was declared in Flint. As of 2019, fifteen elected officials were indicted — though none have seen any jail time thus far.
After five years of contaminated water, elected officials of Flint, Michigan claim the water is safe to drink and that levels of copper are down. But residents still remain untrustworthy of their public officials with many still choosing to drink bottled water. Under the leadership of Karen Weaver, the city’s former elected mayor as of 2015, over 8,000 water pipelines have been inspected and repaired. Even so, residents are still wary that the problem is truly resolved.
A third of Flint residents still live below the poverty line, with the median income resting at less than half the state average; and while the water quality has vastly improved, it will be several years before studies will be able to show whether or not the contaminated tap water had significant effects on the cognitive behavioral development of the thousands of the city’s children.
Regardless, the improvements to Flint’s water have begun to attract new business openings in the city. NPR reported that 200 million dollars in small businesses have begun to open up in the city since the improvement of the water quality, according to Linette Phillips, deputy director of small businesses and workforce development. These small businesses range from auto parts manufacturing to a new culinary school. Ms. Weaver, Flint’s former mayor, does not believe the crisis is over yet, but believes that Flint is “moving from crisis to recovery,” as progress continues to be made.
For a timeline of Flint’s water crisis, visit https://www.apnews.com/1176657a4b0d468c8f35ddbb07f12bec for more information. The city is also still accepting water donations; for more information on how to donate, students can visit https://www.cityofflint.com/how-can-i-help/.
Sam Walsh is a fourth-year student majoring in special education and English. SW850037@wcupa.edu