The plight of the bankrupt city of Flint, Michigan has long stood as the poster child for post-industrial job loss and blight in the U.S.
On top of all Flint’s struggles, providing clean drinking water has become one the biggest problem facing the struggling city.
U.L. Brown has seen a lot of changes since he moved to Flint from Arkansas back in 1965. One thing he’d never seen, however, was his drinking water change color.
On the kitchen table in front of him set several gallon jugs. One is spring water bought in a store. The other two come from his tap and have slight shades of brown and green.
“This is the water that I buy,” Brown said, pointing to a jug of clear water.
“This is the water that comes from our faucet. You wouldn’t want a drink of that water, you wouldn’t want your kids to drink that water.”
Like many residents in Flint Brown’s been told by the city that the water is safe for drinking. Still, he claims it just doesn’t taste like fresh water.
For decades Flint bought its water from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DPSW), which draws from Lake Huron. Last year Flint’s 30-year contract with Detroit ended, and the rates went way up, according to Flint’s Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose.
“Using round numbers, the cost of purchasing water from Detroit, was somewhere around a $1 million per month,” Ambrose says.
For a city facing a crippling budget deficit, a million-dollar water bill was too much to swallow. So, the city switched to its backup source, the Flint River.
Shortly after the switch last summer, the city was forced to send out two boil advisories for high levels of E. coli and other bacteria. Ambrose says measures have since been take to insure the water is safe.
“Is the water so unsafe that it is a total disservice to our citizens? Our answer is, ‘no.'”
But, with the average house paying $150 per month for water, many residents feel they deserve better.
Pastor Alfred Harris represents the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, a citizens group urging the city to go back on Detroit water, until the new 80-mile Karegnondi pipeline to Lake Huron is complete next year.
“We’re paying exorbitant fees for water, that’s really not safe,” Harris said.
“I believe the health of the people should be everyone’s main concern. The health of the people no matter what it costs.”
Flint emerged from 41 months of state receivership last week. And with the new pipeline, the city will have an opportunity for both fresh water and a fresh start.
Photo of the Karengnondi Pipeline. When complete in 2016 it will be capable of delivering up to 80 million gallons of Lake Huron water to Flint and neighboring Genesee County.