An American Disaster: Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan

Water plays a critical role in both modern society and human life. As oxygen-dependent organisms, humans need water for survival.  Water impacts the human body in a number of ways; some of these ways include: maintaining body temperature; metabolizing body fat; flushing toxins out of organs; lubricating and cushioning organs; and keeping the respiratory system intact.  Because of some of these impacts, modern society makes it imperative that virtually everyone possesses water.

Water holds an essential part on planet earth; but, when it mixes with governmental and political regulation, things get messy.  A recent case of this lies in Flint, Michigan, a city now desperate for a glass of water; half empty or half full.    

On January 15, 2016, the New York Times  reports Michigan's attorney general Bill Schuette opening an investigation on the lead contamination issue found in Flint’s drinking water. From the leading investigation, Governor Rick Snyder asks President Obama to call the issue a disaster, making National troop guards fanned out across the city and distributed bottled water, water filters, and water testing kits. The news certainly comes as a surprising detail; but the fact that the issue emerged three years ago comes as even more surprising.

In March of 2013, the Flint city council votes 7-1 in joining the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), a new water pipeline project aiming at delivering the city water from Lake Huron, as Detroit begins charging Flint for water usage.  The state officials of Michigan agree with the switch, as the plan potentially saves the city $19 million over the next eight years.  Days after supporting the KWA project, Detroit notifies Flint that by April of 2014 it will stop sending Flint its water. With the KWA project expected completion in roughly three years, Flint starts looking for a temporary water source.  In the next eight month, Flint invests $4 million within its water plant; and, after much discussion, Flint announces its river as the city’s water source.  Mayor Dayne Walling credits state-appointed Emergency Manager Darnell Earney for the plan. The new drinking plan requires two things: 1. using Flint’s water plant for treatment and distribution and 2. upgrades on the city's plant, since the city previously purchased already treated water from Detroit. The new plan projects saving the city $5 million in the next two years.

In April 2014, after many disinfection-system delays,  Mayor Dayne Walling turns off Detroit water feed, calling it “a historic move for the city of Flint to return to its roots and use its  own river as a drinking water supply” (Gary Ridley, Detroit Free Press ).  But in the weeks of the switch, many Flint residents complain about the new tap water, claiming it smelled bad, tasted horrible, and gave irritating rashes, and start buying bottled water.  City residents add lime salt for combating hardness, but the Mayor Waling and Emergency Manager Earney assure that the water comes as “a quality, safe product” (Ridley, Detroit Free Press). But, over time, city residents conducted three boiling-water advisories nearly four months later after multiple water treatment tests confirmed the new water held bacteria.  With evidence of contamination and growing complaints from residents,  General Motors announced that on October 2014 that it will stop using Flint’s new water as water causes some car parts to rust in production.  

Fast-forward to January of 2015, after governmental officials tell residents that the city violates the Safe Drinking Water act for holding Trihalomethanes (TTHM), a group of chemicals formed as a byproduct of disinfecting water, some city council members promote cancelling Flint’s water usage of its river. Emergency Manager Earney says he will hire a water consultant to improve the water.  Despite Detroit willingness to not charge the city $4 million, Flint officials deny the offer. By July of 2015, Virginia Tech Professor, Marc Edwards, claims through experimentation that Flint’s water holds high levels of lead, despite TTHM levels declining since reported. By October 2015, the Genesee County declares a public health emergency for Flint residents, issuing out water bottles.  In the same month, Governor Rick Snyder announces an $1 million purchase for water filters. But, again, Governor Snyder makes another announcement, this time proposing a multi-million dollar plan joining Detroit's water system.  

The coverage of the water issue in Flint gives way to the following now in January of 2016: Mayor Walling resigns, Governor Snyder makes a public apology that addresses Flint residents and asks the Obama administration for federal aid, and President Obama signs declaration of emergency for Flint and sends Flint water and food supply through federal troops, as people plead for clean water.

Of course, many  have expressed their views on Flint’s water issue.  In Flint, a poor city plagued by high crime rates and a declining population, residents voice their anger and frustration over the crisis.  Sonya Huston, 42, tells a New York Times reporter how the entire thing “is insane, you know?” as she visits a fire station, picking up a water filtration pitcher.  She said that she and her husband only recently found a home; but, now their daughter, ages 7 and 8, “can’t even use the water in their own home”.  American citizens across the country also weigh in on the issue. James Rafalski of Northville says on  Detroit Free Press website how he feels “deeply disturbed by the lack of leadership demonstrated by Gov. Rick Snyder on a number of issues but, specifically, regarding the lead poisoning of the children in Flint”.  Laura Dewey from Grosse Pointe Woods also comments on the website, saying that if she  “were Gov. Snyder, I would not have had the nerve to show my smiling face at the Detroit auto show”.  

Not surprisingly, Presidential candidates as well talk about Flint’s water issue; however, the issue divide the candidates along partisan lines, with Democrats expressing their outrage and Republicans staying relatively silent.

 In an exclusive interview Saturday with The Detroit News, Democratic presidential candidate hopeful and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders calls out Governor Snyder, saying his apologies on behalf of his administration on Flint's water crisis “is just not good enough”.  “And I think the governor has got to take the responsibility and say, ‘You know what, my administration was absolutely negligent and a result of that negligence, many children may suffer for the rest of their lives and the right thing to do is to resign”, Sanders says in the interview.

In addition, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton sent sharp responds towards Governor Snyder's actions.  Appearing on the CBS Sunday talk show “Face The Nation”, Clinton said Snyder should have sought out for federal emergency assistance “weeks ago”. But the former secretary of state rejected going as far as Sanders did in calling for Snyder resignation just one year into his second term.  “I don’t want to get caught up in the political back-and-forth here, I want to help the people of Flint,” Clinton said. “And I particularly want a comprehensive health analysis of what’s happened to these children.”  

Meanwhile, Republican candidates gave little on the subject. Donald Trump, the leading Republican contender, said in the Wall Street Journal that it “is a shame what happening in Flint, Michigan. A thing like that shouldn't happen..But again,  I don’t want to comment on that”.  GOP candidate Senator Marco Rubio also strayed from the issue.  “I’d love to give you a better answer on it,” Rubio said.“It’s just not an issue we’ve been quite frankly fully briefed or apprised of in terms of the role the governor has played and that state has played in Michigan on these sorts of issues.”

Indeed, the only candidates in Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush offer extensive comments among Republican candidates. In Hampshire, Cruz said in New Hampshire that the situation appears as a travesty and a failure of government at every level. Jeb Bush also agrees with the Flint water issue becoming one of the most horrific events in the 21st Century for America; however, he rejects the notion of Governor Snyder resigning. "Well, he's taken -- he's taken responsibility. And I admire that,” Jeb said. “He's not saying that it's someone else's fault. He's rolling up his sleeves and trying to -- trying to deal with this..he[Governor Snyder] needs to do what he's doing, which is to accept responsibility and begin to solve the problem."

Clearly, all of these presidential candidates hold different approaches when dealing with Flint’s water crisis.  Many will take the sides of these political figures, but a mayor's resignation appears not as the main issue.  Indeed, the main issue comes in government officials, on either a  national, state, or local level, not quickly responding to the environmental, health problems public faces at the time.  Flint residents have been protesting for its government officials to find a solution to its water source for nearly two years straight.  Within that two year span of protesting, many flint residents and children have become ill from the contaminated water. The actions performed by flint officials, or lack thereof are questionable, but one thing is clear: they took a constitutionally oath to represent the people that voted them in office, they took a constitutionally oath to be domestic servants.  When that oath is destroyed, the relationship between the people and its government crumbles.  

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