Flint Water Crisis

Demand justice for Flint/Detroit Water Justice!

The lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan could be repeated nationwide.

The public drinking water of Flint, Michigan was contaminated by lead. Long-term senseless and potentially criminal acts of government caused the Flint water crisis. Especially heinous was Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignoring the residents of Flint.

Background

The Flint Water Crisis did not begin with the failure of the MDEQ to apply an anti-corrosive coating to water distribution pipes after the switch to the Flint River. It began when revenue sharing funds were taken from the city, and a financial crisis was thus declared.

Emergency Management (EM) was imposed on Flint residents in 2011 through a series of decisions to disenfranchise Flint voters and give control of its assets and financial decisions to the state through the managers. Part of their goal was to support the adoption of the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) to compete against the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and, later, the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). They lacked the resources to develop the system and eventually were charged with crimes that tied emergency management operations with deadly decisions to change the Flint drinking water source.

The State had given back to the City Council temporary authority and then strong-armed the Council into accepting the KWA as a political cover. In fact, the EM and governor remained in control of all decision-making. It may be years before we really know all the back room deals managed by the Emergency Managers of the time resulting in the current Mayor vs City Council debates. WE do know it was the EM’s decision to go with the Flint River to “save” the money the state had stripped from the city in the first place. This turned out to be a disaster for Flint. It was a straight up power grab in service to corporations seeking to privatize water and public infrastructure.

The Flint crisis diverted attention from the mounting Detroit water shut-off crisis but is intimately tied to it. Emergency Managers had arrived in Detroit also, engineering a bankruptcy, selling off assets and moving to shift control from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Great Lakes Water Authority, a public-private entity, engineered by another Emergency Manager with the Governor and County Executives from Oakland, Wayne and Macomb to usurp control from the City of Detroit, and to change control of the large water system to suburban and private interests.

In both cases, Veolia, the French water corporation, has operated behind the scenes as a consultant. We can only wonder what they hope to get out of all this, and hope some good investigative reporting gets to the bottom of it. Flint got poisoned, and thousands have had their water shut off in Detroit. Detroit has lost control of their water department to the suburbs. Flint is being sued by the State for refusing to sign a 30-year contract with the GLWA at a time when they still don’t even have assurances that their infrastructure will be repaired and there is no guarantee of a reasonable price structure over the long haul. Meanwhile there is a great deal of confusion over who controls anything and who will benefit in the end. Of course it should be the people of Flint and Detroit who benefit with the return of safe, publicly controlled drinking water.

All of this activity has resulted in massive suffering of real people, a majority of whom are poor residents and mostly people of color. They live in declining cities with municipal assets that were looted and bankrupted to pay millions of dollars in Wall Street debt. Institutional racism plays out as low- income residents are blamed for their water shutoffs and bills, yet corporate water customers are regularly late and can negotiate their bills with the water department. Further, racism underpins emergency management through the removal of Detroit’s and Flint’s democratically elected officials from managing and approving operations and contracts, and public participation in these processes.

Privatization of water and public assets is the goal for the current state administration and its corporate allies. The water in Flint is still not safe to drink, people are still being infected by bacterial contamination, some are losing their homes for refusal to pay for water they can’t drink, and democracy is still not available. The pipe replacement is going at a snails pace, with as of this date only 35 homes have had the lead removed inside. Bottled water companies are making a fortune by supplying for hefty profits public water they paid virtually nothing for to the people who actually own and need it. In Detroit over 100,000 residents have had their water shut off, some have lost their homes and their children, and the suffering continues. Efforts to establish a Water Affordability Plan have hit a brick wall and there still is no democratic control over water in the city.

MCWC's Position

MCWC is opposed to any form of water privatization. Water must remain in the commons, subject to the public trust doctrine embedded in the constitution. We demand that a Water Affordability Plan be adopted at the state and federal level. Flint and Detroit residents should be allowed to access public water at the same rate Nestle takes it, which would mean all those shut off should only owe a few dollars and should be re-connected immediately. Funding for public infrastructure upgrades and maintenance must be restored by the State and democratic control must be returned to the cities still run by emergency managers or the latest Receivership Transition Advisory Board as in Flint. Money allocated to fix the pipes and deal with the lead in Flint should be spent there for that purpose and not parceled out for more unnecessary studies.

No matter which decision is ultimately made by the people in Flint as to a contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority or the Keregnondi Water Authority, several guidelines should be followed.
1) There should only be interim contracts for water for 2-3 years until the city has recovered and is made whole again.
2) There should be a waiver from all long-term contracts while the city recovers.
3) There must be a path to public control of the water and the government. In other words, justice must prevail. Water is Life for all of us.

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