The real tragedy in Flint

Disasters

We’ve all read and heard a lot about the water situation in Flint. We’re hearing most of it from Democrats, who are citing this as an example of the evils of Republican leadership and all sorts of other hyperbole.

Rachel Maddow, among others, has (nauseatingly endlessly) blamed it on Michigan’s emergency financial manager law.

So much noise. So much misinformation. So little time.

If you’d like to know what really happened here, read on, but be warned: it’s long. If you’re the TL;DR type (Too Lazy; Don’t Reach), skip to the last subhead. The conclusions won’t make sense to you, but then maybe you don’t want it to.

The Tragedy’s Roots

For more than 50 years, Flint bought its water – treated and ready to serve – from Detroit. In recent years, Detroit has – like most cities with wholesale water customers, like Saginaw – has raised its rates to reflect the rising costs of maintaining aging systems. Detroit, according to Flint (and most of its other wholesale customers) was really jacking prices up.

Keep in mind that all of Saginaw’s wholesale customers say the same thing at every rate increase, and some – Frankenmuth most recently – have, over the years, threatened to build their own systems or find another source.

In order to be able to control its own water destiny, Flint’s city council and its mayor voted to join the Karegnondi water authority. It’s something they’d been talking about – and tried once before – since the 1960s. They finally got enough municipalities behind them to make the deal work. They announced the deal in 2013, with a target of getting water from Lake Huron through the new system sometime in 2016. Council voted 7-1 on the decision, which was later signed off on by the city’s EFM.

The Kiss-Off

The very next day Detroit’s water and sewer board notified Flint that it was exercising its right to terminate Flint’s 50-year-old contract in one year. Two years before their new source would be completed.

Why did Detroit do this? Because they were pissed off and thought, apparently, it would a nice F-U with which to send off their largest water customer.

Flint, realizing it was high and dry, needed to find an interim water source to keep things going until the new system was up. They hired a consulting firm, which looked at several options. One of them was to continue with Detroit, and there were negotiations over interim rates. The only news report of that process simply says “negotiations broke down.” Which tells me that Detroit wasn’t offering enough K-Y for what they were asking Flint to take when it bent over.

The study concluded that the best bet was to draw from the Flint River.

The Flint River, where the water gets drawn from, isn’t terribly “polluted.” As Michigan rivers go, it’s fairly typical. A little industrial pollution, but a ton of silt and agricultural runoff – it’s draining more than 1,300 square miles, most of it farmland. But it’s water that’s very treatable with modern treatment technology. And it’s always been the backup source.

The final decision to use the Flint River as an interim source rather than Detroit appears to have been made by the EFM (at this time, Darnell Earley. He claims the decision was made by the state; former Mayor Walling says it was made by Earley). Earley note at the time that it would save Flint $12 million over the two years of the contract. Not much of a bargain in hindsight, but nobody had foreknowledge of the screw-up and cover-up to come.

So Flint’s water department is asked to start treating its own water – something it hasn’t done regularly in at least 40 years, if ever. The water guys told the mayor and Council and Earley, “sure, we can do that.”

The First Screw-Up

Apparently, they couldn’t. I’m speculating here: They had little or no experience in treating raw water. I don’t know if they read a book, took a seminar or watched a how-to on YouTube, but either way, they started treating the water as if it were being run through a modern distribution system of plastic and copper pipes.

It’s not. It’s running through a 100-plus-year-old system of cast iron mains and lead service lines.

This is common. It’s what nearly every older city in Michigan has. I have a lead service line in my house – probably in every house I’ve lived in, in fact – but have never shown elevated lead levels, nor have my kids.

And that’s because something interesting happens with lead water lines. The inner surface of the lead pipe builds up a layer of lead oxide — the “lead” that makes “lead crystal” as clear and brilliant as it is. While still toxic itself, it is less prone to leaching. It coats the inside of the pipe and prevents elemental lead from leaching into the water.

But only if the pH balance of the water is just right. If it’s not (and I’ll not go into the chemistry involved except to say pH is an indicator of free ions that can create the galvanic activity), metals will start to corrode.

There are well-documented protocols for corrosion control for municipal water systems. They were not followed in this case – from what I can see, because the agency charged with monitoring that activity, the Michigan DEQ, simply didn’t require it.

As soon as they started running that water through the system, the free hydrogen and hydroxyl ions started eating the lead oxide from the lead service lines, and causing the iron mains to rust. That’s why you see so many pictures of brown water from Flint – it’s rust from the iron service. When it leaves the tower, it’s perfectly clear (and perfectly, safely drinkable). It’s just either too acid or too alkaline.

The Cover-Up

Evidence suggests the DEQ did not check to see if a corrosion control program was in place. When people started complaining, the DEQ shrugged. Maybe somebody knew they had screwed up. Maybe nobody did, although the chain of evidence seems to suggest they were just too arrogant to pay attention to anyone who had anything to say about it. This isn’t surprising, coming from an agency whose director has a degree in food science, an MBA in finance and spent the previous few years of his career managing a entrepreneurship incubator. That’s what happens when you give important cabinet-level jobs to people who help you politically … but that’s another story.

DEQ is responsible for overseeing testing of water supplies. And when Flint tested its water, DEQ staff made Flint fudge the results. They threw out samples that had high lead levels.

And, I’m going to guess, told the Governor and his staff, all along, that everything was fine, this was much ado about nothing: “Look, Mr. Governor, Flint’s testing says the water’s fine.” The US EPA, charged with oversight of the whole shooting match, also dropped the ball.

The Recap

  1. Flint’s elected leadership makes what is actually a solid, sound decision that will, in the long run, save the city millions of dollars and give it more control over its destiny – and, because it positions Flint as a wholesale supplier of water, possibly enhance revenues for them.
  2. Detroit Water Board decides to be spoiled and pissy and leaves Flint with no good options for the two years before its pipeline is built.
  3. Flint’s leadership and GOP-appointed EFM make a well-deliberated decision to draw water from the Flint River.
  4. Flint’s water staff – the people in Flint who are the experts on this sort of thing – apparently aren’t up to the task. And the people they count on to oversee and help them …
  5. The Michigan DEQ, is completely asleep at the switch. And once they discover their mistake, they lie about it and ask Flint to help them lie.
  6. US EPA is aware of a problem, but apparently trusted the kids playing in the DEQ sandbox to fix things.

Personally, I think Detroit needs to be held accountable for starting the snowball down the hill. And I think there are people in the DEQ who should be prosecuted for reckless endangerment and fraud.

The Governor? His accountability lies in the creation of the corporate culture that allowed DEQ’s hubris to let it happen.

The Detroit Water Board members, I’m guessing, aren’t Republicans. The Flint water department staff who were in over their heads weren’t Republicans. The DEQ staff is probably a mix.

The Even Larger Tragedy

This is a huge public health disaster. And we Americans like our big, bad disasters in black and white. We want to blame it on one bad guy and reward one good guy. We’re not real good at nuance and chains of events … especially if they clash with our political beliefs.

Every Democrat in the country is calling for Gov. Snyder’s head and blaming it purely on the Republican governor and his emergency financial manager law. And not only are they ignoring the guys in the black hats who actually caused the problem, they’re really ignoring the victims. Worse, they’re using them as a tool to gain a political advantage. And that’s even larger tragedy.

That’s not what Flint’s children need right now. People need to focus on them, and not on their hatred of all things Republican.

Update 1/19/2016

This has been updated to reflect new information. And let me be very clear: I am not paid to be an investigative reporter, and this is not a news outlet. This is strictly my opinion, and it is based on news accounts. Some facts are not known, in large part because of the lack of transparency in the office of a governor who promised to be transparent. And as I learn new facts that contradict information I had in here, I will so note them. 

None of this changes my overall point. There is a big difference between blame and accountability — and which you use will have a lot to say about the results you get in the end. Blame and outrage will help Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and it will help Michael Moore sell his next film. But the people of Flint can’t drink blame, and they can’t bathe their kids in outrage. We know exactly what the problem is. Let’s get the best people to work on fixing it. After that, we can start the floggings. And there are people here who should be flogged. 

208 thoughts on “The real tragedy in Flint

  1. Their political ideology DOES NOT MATTER. and your insistence on bringing up party affiliations undermines your entire post, blog, and you as a person.

  2. what happened to the buck stops here. blaming it on low level employees doesn’t negate the fact that an enormous amount of time went by , along with allegations before the governor decided to act and declare an emergency. if it was your lead pipes you would have yelled a long time ago. by the way , you need to change those apparently it is affecting your mental state.

  3. I think this post pulls together some valuable information. But nuance and context are important, and there are some aspects where I think the interpretation of the facts could be strengthened, and some facts are still missing.

    1. Some of the commenters above argue that the ECM overruled the Flint City Council, which they claim wanted to reach an interim contract with the Detroit Water Board. I think it is important for someone to clarify what the facts are on this.

    2. However, the overall context is one where the ECM oversaw the city, in a situation where there was enormous pressure to reduce costs. Ultimately, cities are creatures of the state. The state decides what taxing authority they have. The state decides what revenue sharing there should be to make up for inequities due to unequal tax bases per capita and unequal spending pressures per capita. The Flint crisis happened in a state in which many cities are facing serious financial crises. These urban crises ultimately have their root in how the state has acted, or failed to act, in response to growing concentrations of poverty in many of the state’s cities. So I think it is right for the media to focus on the pressure to reduce costs in very low-income cities as a key part of the problem. This is symbolized and exemplified by the ECM, but the issue is more than that, but rather an entire broken system of municipal finance.

    3. It is unclear to me why the Detroit Water Board is to blame. They could hardly have foreseen that the Flint River water would not be properly treated to avoid dissolving the lead. I would assume that the Detroit Water Board’s primary responsibility is to deliver quality water at an affordable cost to its customers, particularly its home customers, and to secondarily raise some revenue by also selling the water to other customers. It does not seem to me unusual for there to be one price for a long-term contract, and a higher price for a short-term contract. Perhaps there is some state regulation of what prices could be charged — someone who knows something about state public utility law and regulations should be able to clarify this issue. One of the commenters above said that others in Genessee County were able to negotiate a short-term contract with Detroit. Why didn’t this happen in Flint? It may be due to the pressure to reduce costs, which is exemplified by the EFM.

    4. Obviously whoever in Flint decided on what treatment was needed for Flint River water didn’t know what they were doing. But the buck on this does stop with the DEQ. They are supposed to oversee this and make sure that proper treatment is followed. And my understanding is that under our system of dividing up environmental regulatory responsibility, the states have more authority that the US EPA over safe drinking water. Again, someone who understands the fiscal federalism of environmental regulations may be able to clarify this, but my sense is that the states are in charge of water safety more than either the cities or feds.

    5. One has to ask: why was the DEQ so dysfunctional in this situation? That actually is perhaps the key issue. What events over the years have led to the DEQ being so poorly run and managed? Presumably there are persons familiar with the details of DEQ’s institutional history to determine what aspects of politics and policy decisions have led to this situation.

    Now, in the above, there are some facts that need to be filled in. But my interpretation of the same news media accounts you are reading lead me to conclude that the state is primarily responsible for this problem — due to (1) its very poor fiscal federalism in dealing with the growing concentration of poverty in many Michigan cities, (2) its poor management of DEQ, and (3) its ultimate responsibility for Flint decisions during the period of EFM.

    • Great job digging a bit deeper into an article that began to make some excellent points about human and technical system complexities. It was when Mr. Branch began to use language like “pissy” I began to look for biases and deeper questions. Thanks for going there, Tim

    • Thank you for mentioning that cities are “creatures of the state.” That’s an important point that critics of the EFM law don’t consider.

      I don’t consider the Detroit Water Board “to blame.” But if you trace back the chain of events, that’s the first one. And given the information that’s available so far, my opinion is that a) they did it out of spite and b) it wasn’t necessarily a good business decision.

      But if you go beyond this, I agree 100 percent (to which previous posts on this blog will attest) that the starvation diet the state has put its municipalities on for 40 years is an even larger root cause.

    • Readers might find this 4-page fact sheet from EPA on the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of interest. http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-04/documents/epa816f04030.pdf

      Of particular relevance are the following passages:

      “US EPA sets national standards for drinking water
      based on sound science to protect against health
      risks, considering available technology and costs. ”

      and

      “The most direct oversight of water systems is
      conducted by state drinking water programs. States
      can apply to US EPA for “primacy,” the authority to
      implement SDWA within their jurisdictions, if they
      can show that they will adopt standards at least as
      stringent as US EPA’s and make sure water systems
      meet these standards. All states and territories, except
      Wyoming and the District of Columbia, have received
      primacy.”

      In other words, the federal EPA sets the minimum drinking water standards, and the states are given the authority of implementing these standards.

    • Good comments. The DEQ is regulated by the EPA. The state can be more strict than the EPA, but cannot be less so. This may not be the best place to comment on the testing mentioned in the original article. When the DEQ enforces against an entity, if a sample result is not in compliance, then sample point is considered non-compliant from that time backward in time until the last compliant sample. Most action plans make that a consideration by ensuring that additional samples are taken to re-establish compliance. Compliance is also based somewhat on the percentage of samples that are non-compliant. When an unexpected non-compliant result is found, it is also important to ensure proper result validation, which may include many more samples being evaluated, along with samples with known levels of contamination, samples known not to contain any contamination, and others to ensure the testing is accurate and reliable. I’ve always been surprised that drinking water providers are tested much less frequently than are those that discharge wastewater, even at the municipal level. It is shocking to think any questionable samples would be thrown out without proper validation. For non-drinking water contamination of surface waters, that could be interpreted as a criminal act subject to fines and/or imprisonment.

  4. Wow Greg, are you sure you’re an actual American, ’cause if you are, we’re going to have to take away your knee-jerk reaction badge. You stepped back and took the time to survey the entire matter before speaking out…if this were the fifties, McCarthy would have you up in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. However, being a resident of Michigan, I have watched Snyder as he joins in with other Republicans to create the New America Apartheid. (coming soon to a country near you) The man is a corporate shill, and the only good I can see coming from this debacle is that his aspirations to go beyond state government will be permanently squashed, or at least it is to be hoped…

  5. At the time of the Detroit Water Board being pissy, the City of Detroit was under emergency management, which brings us back to Snyder and his business, not government, rulings. Good article, like the thoughts.

    • Detroit’s EFM started on the job less than a month before that decision was made. But I fully agree that part of the problem was that this businessman, like many, doesn’t realize that government doesn’t work like business.

      • If you’re going to run government like a business, here’s your business model:

        There’s a board of 148 directors. But unlike the corporate “one vote per share” model, they’re directly elected by the all customers, who each get one vote for the directors in their district.

        You’re the CEO. You aren’t chosen by the board of directors. You’re also directly elected by the customers.

        You don’t have one budget or one revenue stream. You have dozens of budgets and hundreds of revenue streams, each with their own set of rules and attached strings.

        The comparisons go on and on, and while I don’t agree that sound business principles must apply to government policy, government doesn’t work the same way business does.

      • I disagree wholeheartedly! Government should never be run like a business. This is a government of the people, by and for the people. Government salaries are paid by our tax dollars. They are supposed to be elected by the people, not rich businessmen! The bottom line in business is PROFIT…People are hired/fired as they see fit. Workers have no real say in how a business is run, unless they can offer ways to make more money for the head honchos. Try to run a country like this and there will be hell to pay as soon as more people figure out what is going on. The Rightwing propaganda machine needs to be recognized for what it is…just a method to brainwash ignorant people, who then are USED as shills to benefit the wealthy who want to run the show.. Look up Oligarchy…Fascism…and see where this country is headed unless “We the People” put a stop to it.

    • HI Pat, so you’re an un-ashamed angry communist. OK… I can deal with that. Just call a spade a spade and be honest with yourself. I think you forgot to end your comment with “Workers Unite!”

      • Wrong! I am a Democratic socialist, and I am not angry, I am disgusted with Republican politics. Disagreeing does not make me a Communist. I was once an independent and voted for the best person regardless of party, but the GOP has been totally taken over by incompetence …all the good ones have left or soon will. This blog is about the current water situation which falls under the umbrella of bad politics….so I will wait to see what facts are uncovered if any.

    • Greg, I get kinda what you’re saying… I was talking more on the budget side. I like this quote from Calvin Coolidge on how to run the government:
      I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form. -Calvin Coolidge

  6. Diane Rehm Show first hour today did an excellent job of presenting the situation, with guest including the heroic pediatrician and the Virginia Tech prof—both of whom, when asked, said their faith in government has been destroyed. Both also declined to place blame on any one person–as is clear from Greg’s post, there’s plenty for many.

    It’s available online either later today or tomorrow.

  7. We all know that If the author’s version of events was anywhere close to viable, Snyder et al would be promulgating them, big time. Snyder has already reneged on his promise to release emails on the Flint crisis, I suspect it has something to do with his culpability.

    The Flint River water was brown, foul and rash inducing and would have been that way even if they had added the anti-corrosive agent that would have prevented lead poisoning. In addition, adding the anti-corrosive agent should have been standard procedure given the age of the pipes. The people of Flint’s complaints were ignored because they are low income and majority African American and because of the completely undemocratic structure of the EM. Not only were the people’s complaints ignored, but scientists with documented evidence of poisoning were told they were wrong.

    That is huge, undeniable and far more relevant than blaming Detroit even if the city was charging too much for water. Moreover, Flint families had their water bills jacked sky high regardless and are still paying for poison.a

    If I had even accidentally poisoned people in Bloomfield Hills or Grosse Pointe, I would not have been in a suit at the auto show dodging reporter’s questions. I would have been in an orange jumpsuit answering my lawyer’s questions which is where Snyder should be.

    • Well, it seems pretty faithful to the timeline the governor’s office distributed this morning. But I, too, have wondered if there is a competent public relations professional in Lansing.

      The Flint River water, after treatment, only became brown and foul because it did not have an anti-corrosive agent; the rash-inducing part is what caused the corrosion of the iron pipes in the system to create rust, and the lead oxide and carbonate in the lead pipes to free lead.

      I’m not doubting that complaints may have been dismissed because of who was making them. But we also know that we had the state’s environmental regulatory body on the other side saying, “no, everything is fine” when it knew, in fact, that it wasn’t. There are degrees of culpability in this; and the governor’s failure to release the emails is, indeed, troubling.

  8. “This isn’t surprising, coming from an agency whose director has a degree in food science, an MBA in finance and spent the previous few years of his career managing a entrepreneurship incubator. That’s what happens when you give important cabinet-level jobs to people who help you politically … but that’s another story.”

    Are you really sure that’s another story? I’d say it may be the heart of this story and the governmental negligence so abundant in it.

  9. Two problems with your discussion of Flint: 1) It was the Emergency Manager in Flint who was in what has been called a “pissing contest” with the EM in Flint who made the decision to raise rates, early on; 2) Flint’s EM received a letter from Detroit offering to reconnect and waive the fee to do so, about one year ago, when problems were becoming evident, but the Flint EM refused to acknowledge the error and reconnect, so it waited until Oct. 2015 for the reconnection to be ordered and financed under Gov. Snyder’s direction (with millions in appropriations of our tax moneys voted forward to Flint in record-speed time by Mi House and Senate–eager to make the scandal disappear as soon as possible!).

  10. I don’t live in Flint now but I grew up there and worked at Buick in Flint for 28 years. You are obviously not from Flint. If you were, you would know the history of the mega-pollution of the River for over 100 years. Any plan to use the Flint River for drinking water is totally ludicrous in itself. I can’t believe this alternative ever got by the preliminary brainstorming phase

    • I’m from Saginaw. I’m downstream from Flint. I know exactly what the Flint and Saginaw Rivers were … before the Clean Water Act. But even while you were in Flint, that river was your backup source.

      • The Clean Water Act helped but the river is still very polluted. They had to put so many chemicals in to treat it at such a high concentration that the chemicals reacted with each other to create all kinds of problems — one being to make the water so corrosive that it ate the lead right off the pipes. Again, hard to believe this actually came to pass — you would have thought common sense would have eliminated this alternative and nipped it in the bud.

  11. Hard to believe that using the Flint River for drinking water ever got by the preliminary brainstorming phase. Are you kidding me??? The Flint River?? Whats wrong, couldn’t you find a radioactive pond nearby? Hard to believe that the Sulphur Pots didn’t want a piece of that!

  12. I’ve been banging the gong on people having too much faith in government to solve all problems and appreciate lee’s comment above. Its just not possible. We have to have reasonable people willing to see how entrenched bureaucracies do not benefit taxpayers all the time. I wish we had a way to make them more accountable.

  13. I sure do love the Monday morning quarterbacking. If you’re so smart why aren’t you rich? If you’re so smart why aren’t you Governor or head of the EPA or DEQ? Most comments here are just outlandish and vulgar. Yes, the Flint River was the backup plan for years. Easy to say today: blah blah and call people stupid. Again, why didn’t you run for office? Go to City Council or County Commission meetings? Run for office now big mouths. Sure is easy to sit behind a keyboard. I find it beyond disgusting when people say: well no one cares cause Flint is mostly black people How f’ing dare you!

    The damage is done. MOVE ON. Get one board and help out or shut up. We all know the condition of the city of Flint and it’s history.

    How about some good news for Flint? Like: have you been downtown recently? The new lofts, the new businesses, the new restaurants. Back to Bricks that draws about 1/2 million people! U of M going gangbusters and expanding each year. Look at Kettering University, another school going gangbusters. Look at the School of the Deaf and it’s new campus, look at Powers High School’s new campus. All big and long term investments to the City. Look at Diplomat Pharmacy’s new HQ. Look at the CEO of Diplomat last year donated a couple million $ to U of M Flint. Landaal Packaging, they opened up a tech office downtown. The list goes on. Did you know, if you add up all the college students enrolled in Flint.. (U of M, Kettering, Baker, Mott and others) Flint is a college town. Flint has more colleges students enrolled over all than EMU! Look at the re investment of General Motors. Look at the Mott Foundation that has never left Flint.

    Does Flint still have big problems? Sure, but it’s turned the corner from the old jokes of Roger & Me.

    Enough! It isn’t like it use to be.

    • Well said. Flint is coming back and becoming a college town will definitely help speed up the recovery. Unfortunately, it often takes years for people to realize that things are changing.

  14. Another good source for the events is this account by Michigan Public Radio:

    http://michiganradio.org/post/reporter-s-notebook-some-state-officials-still-denial-or-misinformed-over-flint-river-decision#stream/0

    The writer, Lindsey Smith, concludes the following:

    “Through months of research and lengthy, recorded interviews, my editors and I came to the conclusion that, had the water experts (specifically officials at MDEQ and the engineering firm Flint’s emergency manager hired), done a better job, then who made the decision to go to the Flint River shouldn’t have mattered. If they would’ve required corrosion control treatment, treatment any normal large city in America uses, treatment that the federal government has now made completely clear is absolutely required, the lead problems Flint has faced may not have ever happened.”

    Now, the article also addresses who approved the decision to go to the Flint River. It is pretty clear that this was a decision of the EFM and DEQ. See Bridge Magazine today for more on this: http://bridgemi.com/2016/01/who-approved-switch-to-flint-river-states-answers-draw-fouls/

    Now, as Michigan Radio points out, IF the engineering firms and DEQ had made better decisions about requiring corrosion control treatment, then the decision to go to the Flint River would probably not have caused these lead problems. And it appears that EPA thought it was clear that this was required under federal law, although the state has at times said it disagrees that this was clear at the time under federal law.

  15. Gosh, all this good news about college town Flint . . . I hope it doesn’t imply we should put lead into the drinking water of other communities. I guess the non-lead consuming teenagers before April 2014 are in college. Diverting us away from the leaded water, the cover-ups, lies / lies / lies, and the attacks against those global warming I mean no-warming-only-change – I mean “There is lead in the drinking water” scientists ought to make us all feel good. And how else to make decisions but the way you feel about them? Let’s feel good about the followers of Trump having been identified primarily as authoritarians. You know, Nazi-like. I wonder if Nazi-like fits anything related to anything in Michigan. Maybe nazi-like is a myth about a personality style that never existed. You know, like evolution doesn’t really exist.

  16. I don’t think the Flint River somehow started now. There should be (is) lots of information regarding it’s make-up, and when it was decided that it could be used as an interim source, while the treatment plant was being completed, people with a job of treating water should have known that if the pH wasn’t adjusted, the water would be corrosive and dissolve lead from pipes that were known to have been made of lead. It seems to me that this is some sort of low-level screw-up, and could have been totally avoided if everybody isn’t preoccupied with CYA.

    • The river has been the backup source for Flint for 50 years, and was used as recently as 2009. But you are right. DEQ did not require the necessary treatment protocol in its permit, and didn’t perform the necessary testing. Flint water dept., not experienced with raw water, may not have known any better.

      While DEQ’s problems started at a low level, the arrogance that allowed them to continue went all the way to the top of the department. Which is why Wyant’s “resignation” was quickly accepted.

    • A few questions (I’m from Flint). First, why didn’t the folks at the Water Treatment Plant consult other cities about treating the water? They hadn’t had to do this for 50 years, so it seemed like someone would have brought that up.

      Second, why has this become such a partian issue? It seems to me there are messes to go all around. Great article.

  17. Great overview of this absurd situation. I agree with the fact that the people need fresh water and treatment for lead poisoning FIRST, then let the floggings commence!

  18. This is a DEQ and/or EPA process gap. The question is, where (in what process) are these “well-documented protocols” defined ?
    Since Michigan DEQ does/did not have these protocol requirements, then this is clearly a gap in their process.

    I think point 5 wording under the recap isn’t right: “The Michigan DEQ, is completely asleep at the switch. And once they discover their mistake…”

    The word “mistake” should be “process gap” which is/was not requiring corrosion protocols within the DEQ (and EPA ?) requirements. Obviously the followup upon that realization should have been more responsible.

  19. You wrote: “That’s not what Flint’s children need right now. People need to focus on them, and not on their hatred of all things Republican.”

    I wonder why we can only do one thing at a time. Could children in need of medical attention be given access to doctors and treatment, and at the same time lawyers and investigators find evidence of criminal neglect, and at the same time policy experts and scientists review and update testing and monitoring systems, and at the same time voters express their disapproval of the head of government? Or can we only do one thing at a time? You seem to say that (conveniently) the illness of children prevents us from doing anything else except continue to empower the people who failed them?

    • I think can we investigate and hold people accountable at the same time as we fix the problem. But I don’t think we can find workable solutions for major and incredibly costly infrastructure issues in an atmosphere of hyperbolic insults and threats.

      • “EPA has determined that the City of Flint’s and the State of Michigan’s responses to the drinking water crisis in Flint have been inadequate to protect the public health and that these failures continue,” the order read.

        “As you and I discussed, some progress has been made in addressing these recommendations, but there continues to be inadequate transparency and accountability with regard to provision of test results and actions taken, and those are critical for the people of Flint,” McCarthy wrote Snyder. “In addition, there is an increasing concern about the capacity to carry out the recommended actions and to safely manage Flint’s drinking water system.”

        This is why you are hearing so much anger towards Rick Snyder. He runs this state like he is the almighty ruler. His admin is not transparent, he over rules the voters if a vote doesn’t result in the way he wishes and then he takes away the publics right to recourse. If there is delay in finding help for these people it is caused by the governor and his office, and their lack of transparency…not by the people expressing anger and holding him responsible as he should be. He is not serving the people of this state, that is just a facade, he is serving the Koch administration.

    • I’ve seen it. It’s a red herring. Knowing one of its largest customers is ready to walk, it’s fullbof promises. “I’ll change this time, baby, I mean it. I won’t gouge you like I have the past 50 years. I’ll be different this time.”

      Flint, knowing better — and probably not fully confident, with good reason, of Detroit’s projections, doesn’t answer but accepts the marriage proposal from KWA.

      The next day, Detroit terminates the existing contract. Either out of spite or to bend Flint over to put it to them on interim rates. (Telling that DWSD’s PR guy isn’t releasing THOSE proposals.)

      Again, none of these decisions would have amounted to a blip … if DEQ had come even close to doing its job.

  20. If only the state would have left Flint to its own devices, the city would now be bankrupt and couldn’t afford Detroit’s…or anybody’s water. Either way Michael Moore had a new movie and can make more money off another tragedy.

    • The projections provided by Detroit in the “recently uncovered” April 2013 proposal were DWSD’s last-ditch effort to keep Flint as a customer. Flint officials rejected the proposal. DWSD’s projections were based on first-year rates, but Detroit would not promise to lock those rates in for more than one year. Which means, in other words, the projections were meaningless. The TYJT study (guess who TYJT’s biggest client is!) predicting huge cost overruns for KWA so far have not panned out; it’s reportedly under budget so far.

      I’d expect the Reason Foundation to put an spin on it that makes the whole thing an anti-free-market effort. But this is really another reporter falling for the misdirection that’s being fed from DWSD’s PR firm to keep people from remembering that Detroit’s termination of Flint’s contract and incredibly jacked-up proposed rates for interim service are what sent Flint to the river.

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