Flint Water Crisis Pollutes Governor’s Authority

Chloe Wintersteen

I wake up to a warm breeze leaking through my screened window on a lazy summer’s day. This breeze is not native to the Bay Area, but rather possesses a distinctly midwestern character. I am in a city where children freely chase squirrels up treelined streets, and dive through sprinklers at a moment’s notice, activities that I fondly recall participating in as a child. Though it may seem naive, nothing taints my memories from my annual trip to my grandmother’s house in the Midwest.

I walk to the bathroom, brush my teeth, wash my face and sneak down the creaky stairs into my grandmother’s kitchen. As I heat a pot of tea and gaze through the bay window at the front lawn, I notice a city worker trickle into view, pull out a large wrench and loosen a few hubs on a nearby fire hydrant. Instantly, a dark beige liquid bursts out of the piping and pollutes the sidewalk. After getting a clearer look, my childish delusion washes down the drain.  

Flint, Michigan is not as I remembered.

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Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my grandmother’s hometown had been ravaged by a city-wide water crisis. Numerous bad decisions regarding Flint’s water supply were made by a group of Michigan’s corrupt leaders powered by frugal agendas, namely Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder and his state-appointed Emergency Manager. Now more than ever, Flint’s citizens deserve to be under the authority of leaders whom they can trust to make proper decisions in this time of need, so Snyder must resign. The Flint water crisis should also prompt citizens and officials to identify potential environmental problems in their respective communities and take necessary action to prevent a similar crisis from occurring elsewhere.

***

Until April 25, 2014, Flint purchased Lake Huron water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which required very little treatment to safely travel through Flint’s aging water-delivery system. However, in 2011, Snyder declared a state of financial emergency in Flint, and, with the help of his newly appointed Emergency Manager, decided to disconnect from Detroit’s water system and instead draw water from the Flint River to save money.

The switch would have been successful had the polluted river water been treated with an anti-corrosion agent at a cost of merely $100 per day for the city. But Snyder refused to pay for the treatment, and allowed untreated river water to corrode Flint’s transport pipes, leaching lead into the water supply. For 19 months, Flint’s 100,000 citizens were repeatedly reassured that this lead-infused water was safe to drink, though many were ultimately poisoned by it.

Though Flint switched back to the Detroit water supply in October, the damage to Flint’s pipes is irreversible. Snyder and his state-appointed Emergency Manager repeatedly sought simple ways to solve increasingly complex issues, but there is no simple way to reverse their decisions now, as the only way to completely recover from the crisis is for Flint’s entire water-piping infrastructure to be rebuilt with money that Flint currently lacks.

When Snyder was initially elected to office, he repeatedly squashed the desires of Flint’s local leaders and superseded the resident’s votes. Misinformed and defenseless Flint citizens were instructed by Snyder and his bureaucratic appointees to continue drinking the water, even though Snyder’s two primary legal advisors instructed him to stop drawing water from the Flint River in 2014. As a result, nine Flint citizens were killed by Legionnaires’ disease, which was contracted through the contaminated water, and many Flint youth now have permanent brain damage from the lead that was absorbed into their bloodstream. The Flint water scandal has left Snyder politically tainted and unable to regain the trust of not only Flint, but Michigan’s residents as a whole. After all they have been through, Flint residents deserve to live in a true democracy again,  under the authority of a governor whose decisions they can trust will reflect their desires in this time of political, social, and economic need. For these reasons, Snyder must resign from his position.

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This crisis has perpetuated the stereotype Flint holds as a horribly dangerous and run-down city. However, Flint’s many neighborhoods are quite the opposite, filled with hard-working individuals living in beautiful turn-of-the-century homes. Though it is hard to believe now, Flint was once the booming center of America’s auto industry, a place where entrepreneurs settled in pursuit of their dreams, much like our very own Silicon Valley. If a crisis as destructive as this can happen in Flint, it can happen anywhere. All American citizens should view the Flint water crisis as a cautionary tale to prevent a similar event from occurring in their own backyards.

Though the media has recently focused on publicizing the Flint water crisis, lead has in fact contaminated water supplies in many other communities. According to USA Today, in the past four years, water tests have identified almost 2,000 additional water systems containing excessive levels of lead, 70 of which allegedly provide water to at least 10,000 citizens. It is important to note that water contamination does not typically occur at the treatment plant, but rather during the delivery process. Because of this, American homes built prior to 1980, 75 million of which contain lead piping, are at a much higher risk. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, inadequately addresses the immediacy of this nation-wide issue, since current water testing standards are inconsistent, poorly enforced and mostly regulated state-by-state.

Everyone should advocate in favor of federal legislation requiring frequent, high-quality water testing and treatment throughout the United States, as well as piping replacement in order to prevent a water crisis as colossal as Flint’s from ravaging a similar community. My summers spent with family in Flint were nearly carefree, but now I recognize that a tragedy like Flint’s crisis could even occur here in the Bay Area if we’re not careful. We should all take responsibility for our own health, advocate for increased water regulation standards nationwide, and place a check on our authority figures if need be, so we can rest assured that our early morning cup of tea on those lazy summer days is healthy and safe.