The ongoing Flint, Mich., water crisis should serve as both an indictment and a warning: Lose a stable and reliable water supply and you lose a city, maybe a region.
It has been nearly three years since Flint, under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched from a Detroit water supply to water drawn from the Flint River in order to save money. After the change, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality failed to properly treat the much more corrosive Flint River supply and lead began leaching from the pipes and fixtures into the city’s water supply. Between 6,000 and 12,000 Flint children were exposed to high lead levels.
The final impact of that exposure may not be known for years, but lead poisoning is known to cause cognitive and physical damage in children.
The Flint water tragedy has also been linked to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease, which affected at least 87 residents and caused 10 deaths.
And the nightmare is not close to being over for city residents, who must still use bottled water or filtered tap water. Earlier this month, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and retired Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel, tasked with overseeing replacement of the city’s service lines, said the Flint water supply may not be in the clear until the end of 2019.
For those keeping score, that will make it more than five years of suffering and fear, billions of dollars in upgrades and legal costs, and, potentially, a lost generation of children who will never have the opportunity to realize their full potential.
Flint needs to be held up as an example of what can go wrong when the water supply is compromised.
That could happen if the Trump Administration is successful in slashing funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
It could be happening now with Facility 3, which the Ohio EPA seems entirely too sanguine about.
Water is the essence of life, and citizens should reasonably expect that government will provide them with a safe and easily accessible supply of it. In Flint, the nation saw the ultimate failure of government. And when water is ruined, there is no real fix. That should make us all suspicious and alert when government tells us not to worry.
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