More than 1,000 days after Flint, Mich.’s water crisis started, relief in the form of a $100 million grant is on the way to help the city fix its water system. That relief comes just as the city announces plans to begin shutting off water service for some who have been unable to pay their bills.
As previously reported on The Root, Congress approved the $100 million in aid for the city of Flint last year, but as Michigan Radio reports, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt did not formally approve the grant until this week.
“The people of Flint and all Americans deserve a more responsive federal government,” Pruitt said in a written statement. “EPA will especially focus on helping Michigan improve Flint’s water infrastructure as part of our larger goal of improving America’s water infrastructure.”
The water troubles in Flint began in 2014 when, as a cost-cutting measure, the city’s water source was switched from Detroit to the Flint River. The highly corrosive water was not properly treated, and it caused lead from the city’s pipes to leach into the water system. Even as officials continue to tout the city’s water system as improved and claim that the lead levels are below the federal threshold, residents of the city are still being told not to use water from the tap without a proper filter.
Michigan Radio reports that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is happy that the federal aid is on its way.
“We are excited and very grateful to receive these much needed funds,” Weaver said. “As we prepare to start the next phase of the FAST Start pipe replacement program, these funds will give us what we need to reach our goal of replacing 6,000 pipes this year and make other needed infrastructure improvements.”
According to Michigan Radio, Gov. Rick Snyder is also happy that the federal funds have been awarded because, as he notes, the state has spent roughly $250 million responding to the Flint water crisis.
“This will help keep Flint on a solid path forward,” Snyder said. “It’s great to see federal, state and local partners continuing to work together to help with infrastructure upgrades and pipe replacements for the people of Flint.”
The EPA money will not go directly to Flint but will instead pass through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
From Michigan Radio:
About half the money is earmarked for replacing aging lead pipes, improving corrosion controls and other water system improvements.
The money will help pay for upgrading Flint’s water system so that it will be able to switch to the KWA pipeline, but that process is expected to take years. The city’s water plant is not expected to be ready to treat water from Lake Huron until late 2019 or 2020.
Meanwhile, as the federal funding works its way through the bureaucratic red tape to finally provide Flint residents with the help they need to finally have clean water after nearly three years of going without, the city has announced that it will begin shutting off water service to delinquent residential customers who have been unable to pay for the unusable water.
According to Michigan Radio, the city plans to shut off water service next month for two apartment complexes as well as 18 other residential customers who are delinquent on their water and sewer bills.
A city spokeswoman told Michigan Radio that the accounts have not been paid in at least five months, and in some cases the water and sewer bills had not been paid for years. The unpaid bills total $2,500 to $6,000.
This comes on the heels of the state ending a subsidy that gave Flint residents a credit to help pay their water bills during the crisis, but Michigan Radio notes that even with the subsidy, only about half of Flint residential customers are current on their bills.
Many residents cite high lead levels and other problems with the water, saying that they don’t want to pay for tap water they don’t trust is safe to drink. Others say they simply can’t afford to pay the relatively high rates the city charges for water, according to Michigan Radio.
In a written statement, Mayor Weaver said: “We thank the residential and commercial customers who have complied with the program and are making payments. I understand this is a difficult situation for many people, and we as city leaders are facing some hard decisions as well.”
Hmmm. How hard is it to understand that people who have been without clean water for nearly three years may be just a tad bit tired of getting the runaround? Considering that the majority of them live below the national poverty level, maybe pulling back the subsidy was not such a wise idea, especially since they can’t even use the water they’re being asked to pay for.