Snyder supports switching Flint water system back to Detroit

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Posted: Oct 08, 2015 6:30 PM
Snyder supports switching Flint water system back to Detroit

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday called for Flint to switch back to Detroit's water system to address a public health emergency over lead and grapple with broader concerns about the effects of the aging pipes distributing the city's water supply.

Flint stopped using water from the Detroit system last year as a cost-cutting measure, opting instead for a supply direct from the Flint River. But since the swap, residents have complained of the water's funky smell, taste and appearance, as well as adverse health reactions, and doctors discovered that the corrosive river water was drawing lead from aging pipes in some homes.

The governor announced he would ask state lawmakers for $9.3 million, including half of the $12 million needed to reconnect Flint to Detroit's system through next summer. Then the city would transition to a new regional water authority drawing water from Lake Huron.

Snyder said Flint would provide $2 million and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which has supported local institutions and organizations for decades, has committed $4 million.

"It will be better for the citizens of Flint, in terms of public safety, which is our paramount concern," he said at a news conference at the foundation's office in Flint.

It is the "fastest way to protect public health and stabilize Flint's water system," Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said, adding that the city should be reconnected to Detroit's system within about two weeks.

Leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature signaled a willingness to help.

"There's an immediate public threat that we have to take seriously and address. We just have to figure it out," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

The announcement came a day after experts in health, water and science recommended that Flint reconnect to Detroit's water system while it awaits a new pipeline to Lake Huron.

The Snyder administration released results from a lead-screening program in schools and homes. Of 37 samples at 13 school buildings, four samples spread over three buildings exceeded the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. One school was flagged at more than six times the limit.

Flint is under a public health emergency due to lead in the water supply. Exposure to lead can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in young children.

Flint, which was under state emergency management when it switched water supply, had long chafed at the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department's rising prices. Flint officials estimated the cost of buying water from Detroit this year at $16 million, and the overall annual cost of switching to the new Karegnondi Water Authority would be $12.5 million.

Snyder said switching back to Detroit is the best short-term solution, but the "long-term, real question is about lead pipes and lead service lines." He said the state is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how to improve and expand its lead and copper testing in school water supplies — something not currently required by the federal government.

"That needs to be a broader discussion," Snyder said. "We still need to have a discussion about infrastructure."

State government and nonprofit groups have been distributing filters and bottled water to Flint homes and schools.

Snyder also said he would ask legislators for more than $3.3 million for filters, free lead testing and additional staff to conduct health exposure monitoring for lead in drinking water. His administration previously had committed nearly $1.3 million separate from the legislative spending process.

Flint Councilman Eric Mays, who has been a vocal critic of decisions related to the water system, welcomed the developments but questioned how long it took and how much more money would be needed. He credited local activists, some of whom have been raising concerns about lead for months.

"I thank a lot of people for coming out — a little late — but it's better late than never," he said.

Flint resident A.C. Dumas said he's upset with how things have been handled.

"I feel betrayed," he said. "I feel that the elderly and the children, all of us feel betrayed."

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Associated Press writer Mike Householder contributed to this story. Eggert contributed from Lansing, Michigan.