As of Tuesday, it has been 1,510 days since the people of Flint, Mich., have had a clean and stable water system. Although experts in the state had flagged the city’s water system as still being “poor,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder still pulled the plug on free water distribution in the city, leaving the residents to fend for themselves as a complete overhaul of the city’s water lines leaves them vulnerable to more lead leaching into the water system. And now Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is fighting back against what she calls “unnecessary and unwarranted” state oversight of the city’s water system.
Remember, it was while Flint was under state control that the lead-contaminated water crisis began. At the end of May, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality put Weaver on notice that the city would receive a proposed administrative consent order, or ACO, under which it would be required to correct water-system problems that had been identified by the state nine months ago—problems the state says the city has yet to fix.
There were a total of 15 recommendations made by the DEQ in August 2017 for the city to correct deficiencies in the water system, including what were described as “significant deficiencies” in the water-distribution system and its management and operations staff.
Among other things, the city does not have a manager dedicated to preventing sewage from contaminating drinking water; it does not have a plan to implement a sufficient rate structure that reflects the cost of adequate staffing and laboratory facilities; and the city has not hired a full-time operator to be in charge of the water plant on a permanent or contractual basis to oversee treatment-system operations.
In a May 31 letter to Weaver, Eric Oswald—director of the DEQ Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division—wrote, “The city has not resolved all of the identified deficiencies at this time.” He urged Weaver to review the ACO draft and “develop realistic dates the city can achieve to bring your drinking-water system back into compliance.”
“The MDEQ commits to assisting the city in resolving these issues; however, the city is primarily responsible for the operation of its system in compliance with applicable laws,” Oswald wrote.
On Monday, Weaver drafted what MLive describes as a “defiant” letter of her own, stating that she wouldn’t cooperate with the state’s oversight.
“During two years of collaborative remediation efforts, an [administrative consent order] has not been necessary,” Weaver wrote. “Now, after the state and MDEQ have been publicly castigated for their abrupt and unilateral termination of bottled-water funding, MDEQ proposes an ACO that raises no issues not previously agreed upon.
“I thus see this ACO as a deliberate and willful misuse of the DEQ’s authority for political purposes and not a good faith effort to address the issues faced by the city of Flint,” the mayor continued.
Weaver said in her letter that updates have been provided to DEQ on every area of concern, and the DEQ has been informed “of the city’s action plans and implementation timeframes, and [had] already agreed to those timeframes and plans.”
“This man-made crisis occurred because the state, over the stringent objections of the city and its people, imposed its misguided policies on the people of the city of Flint,” Weaver wrote. “The city is committed to remediating and recovering from this crisis. ... However, this proposed [order] does nothing to substantively further the city’s recovery and instead appears to be retaliatory and punitive.”