Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Flint Water Crisis Redux

You may recall last month,  Letter to the Editor, My Dead Tree Newspaper . The paper, to their credit, published it, and I gave it no more thought. Yesterday, not one, but two writers took exception with the facts as I presented them. So I sat down to document my sources, and the finished product was a little over two thousand characters larger than the maximum they would accept. After some meat-axe editing, I finally pared it down to size, but it was missing some of the flavor, detail and more truncated quotes that  I will try to reconstruct here.


Two writers have taken umbrage at my letter regarding the Flint water crisis. One said, "The local government did not cause the problem." And muttered about the lack of "safeguards in place". The other said my "assertion the city council of Flint was responsible for the water switch was in error." Error? I don't do errors! (Okay! I didn't say that!) What I had said in the original article was: "The decision to change water supplies to save money was the result of the Democrat controlled city council of Flint, deciding they could save money if they transitioned to a different supplier."

So many facts, so little time! I suppose we could start with the Flint city council Resolution 130165.2, passed March 25, 2013. Emergency manager Ed Kurtz, approved this, on resolution 2013EM041, four days later.

According to the Huffington Post
:
"It all started with a decision to change Flint's water source. For decades, Flint bought its water from the Detroit Water And Sewerage Department. (DWST) In 2013, the Flint city council voted to join the Karegnondi Water Authority, (KWA) a new system that would pump water from Lake Huron."

Former Move-On editor Angie Aker:
"Trying to peel some money away in the budget for other things, the city council in Flint, Michigan, set off a chain of events in March 2013 that had devastating effects. The council voted 7-1 to pass a resolution to stop buying water from Detroit and join a new initiative piping in water directly from Lake Huron. "

The operative word in each account is "voted". Some choose to split hairs. They say, "Well, they never specifically voted to use the Flint River." Except they did. The resolution states "...plus two units from the Flint River." To split a different hair, "But they never voted to make it their primary source." Which is true, but irrelevant.

The Detroit Free Press:
"For reasons that are unclear, Flint and Detroit did not agree on an interim price for Flint to continue receiving Detroit water while the pipeline was being built. Kurtz and his state-appointed successor, Darnell Earley, signed orders for contracts in June and November 2013, respectively, to prepare the Flint water treatment plant to take Flint River water."
And then, the kicker:
"Experts have also said that taking drinking water from the Flint River wouldn't necessarily have been a problem, had it been treated properly...The state Department of Environmental Quality failed to require the addition of needed corrosion control chemicals as part of the treatment process..."

Operative word: "failed". The safeguards in place to monitor water quality were the Michigan State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the federal EPA. I've read numerous accounts and no one seems to be exactly sure what negotiations took place between Flint and DWSD or how they broke down in the year following the council's decision. According to the Detroit Free Press, the choice to use Flint River water wasn't a bad decision, if the water was treated properly. But it was the council vote that set the chain of events in motion. Understand, I don't blame them for the problem. The implementation of their decision was done by two different emergency managers. I don't blame them, either. The fact that they were appointed by a Republican governor makes blaming him a real (partisan) stretch.

If blame is to be placed, let's start with whomever was in charge of the city water treatment plant and the Michigan DEQ. Ignorance or incompetence (or both) resulted in lead contaminated water. Once the problem was discovered, and became known by Obama's EPA, someone there delayed notifying Flint residents and taking necessary action to fix the problem.That person is far more culpable for the sorry state of Flint's water supply than its governor!

It was cheaper to take water from the Flint, but the "penny pinching" wasn't by the governor. It was the city council who wanted more money for other projects. It wasn't to poison children. It was the unintended consequence of the change. Incompetence, not malice, by water treatment facilities, which failed to adequately treat Flint River water, and by state and national water quality agencies which failed in their oversight, resulted in lead contamination in the water. Period.

It is blatant demagoguery to suggest anything else.

Update: Just came across this from Politifact Feb 2016:
"...two state agencies he (Gov. Synder) oversaw -- the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services -- contributed significantly to the problem.

Officials at those agencies were warned early and repeatedly by Miguel Del Toral, an official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that they were putting Flint residents at risk by not instituting anti-corrosion safeguards for Flint River water. Agency officials also initially dismissed warnings from Virginia Tech researchers and Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, even after being prodded on the question by a senior Snyder aide."

"...as long ago as 2010, the EPA expressed concern that "dramatic budget cuts" at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality were having a "significant impact" on its water program. The governor at the time? Democrat Jennifer Granholm.

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