December 16, 2017
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Michigan Officials Seek to Block Court-Ordered Bottled Water Delivery in Flint

By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report


Sheila Cunningham rinses fish with bottled water in Flint, Michigan, October 6, 2016. Flint residents' fears over using the water have scarcely subsided, even as lead pipes are slowly being replaced. (Photo: Brittany Greeson / The New York Times)

State officials in Michigan asked a federal court in Detroit on Thursday to block a court order requiring bottled water deliveries to homes in Flint, Michigan, where residents are still waiting for clean tap water two years after municipal water supplies were contaminated with dangerous levels of lead.

The state's motion requests the court to temporarily block the water delivery order while officials appeal the requirement. The order was issued by a federal judge last week and requires city and state officials to deliver bottled water to Flint residents unless they have a functioning faucet filter or refuse the delivery service.

"What happened to Governor Snyder's pledge that he would work to fix Flint's drinking water crisis?" said Pastor Allen Overton with the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, one of the local plaintiffs who petitioned for the water delivery order, in a statement. "This action today inflicts more harm on a city that's already hurting."

The water crisis in Flint began in 2014 after the city switched its water supply from Detroit's system to the long-polluted Flint River to cut costs while waiting for a new regional system to come on line. Corrosion in the city's pipes contaminated the local water supply with lead, but officials allowed residents to use it for months anyway, even after researchers found dangerous levels of lead in children.

The crisis became a flashpoint of public controversy last winter and sparked a national conversation on pollution and the intersections of racial and environmental justice.

In March, local residents and national advocacy groups petitioned the court to order water deliveries because residents struggle to get enough clean water from emergency distribution centers set up by the city and state. The petition was part of a larger lawsuit filed against the city and state seeking enforcement of federal standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Many residents do not have cars and the bus system is unreliable, making the task of hauling enough cases of bottled water from the distribution points to use at home a time-consuming burden, according to the plaintiffs. Elderly residents rely on volunteers for delivery or go thirsty at home. Filters provided to residents do not always fit on their faucets correctly, and the instructions to use them are difficult to understand.

US District Judge David Lawson agreed, writing in his order last week that "the endeavor of hunting for water has become a dominant activity in some Flint residents' daily lives."

"The facts in this case are clear: the state is failing to deliver safe drinking water to the people of Flint," said Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the national plaintiffs in the case. "Seeking to delay the federal court order that the State immediately fix Flint's water crisis is an obvious insult to the people of Flint, whose tap water has been contaminated with lead for more than two years."

In their latest motion, state officials argue that they are already doing enough to provide clean water to Flint's residents, and that Lawson's order expands the state's emergency response requirements to an "unnecessary and insurmountable degree." The City of Flint did not join state officials in filing the motion.