Under Water

Gov. Snyder addresses the Flint water crisis in his State of the State.

Gov. Snyder Addresses The Flint Water Crisis In His State of the State

“I’m sorry and I will fix it.” Those were Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s words about the Flint water crisis in his State of the State address last night. Last week, President Obama declared an emergency for the city after elevated levels of lead, which is known to cause lasting mental and physical disabilities, were detected in children. The water crisis began in April 2014 when Flint switched from the state’s water source to a local source in an attempt to cut costs. The new water was much saltier than the old water, and almost immediately began to corrode the pipes allowing for lead to be leached into the city’s water.

Lawmakers in the state have been harshly criticized for their handling of the crisis, with suggestions that state officials knew the threat of the contamination long before they took action. Emails obtained by Virginia Tech show that Gov. Snyder’s office was made aware of the problem as many as six months ago. In response, Gov. Snyder announced in his address last night that he would make public his emails about the Flint situation saying, “You deserve accountability.” Gov. Snyder’s emails were made public this afternoon, but some were considerably more transparent than others. Gov. Snyder also outlined how the state’s Department of Environmental Quality allowed water to be drawn from the local source without control chemicals to prevent the lead-soldered pipes from contaminating the city’s water supply.

The Republican Governor also requested $28 million in emergency funding for bottled water, filters, improvements to utilities, testing for kids, treatment services, health care access, and studies on infrastructure to address the crisis. But he did not outline specific steps to address the long-term consequences expected to result from the lead contamination. Medical officials had been warning state officials of high levels of lead in the water since 2014, and school Superintendent Bilal Tawwab says the districts are already preparing for children to enter the school system with developmental, behavioral, and cognitive challenges as a result of the high levels of lead in the city’s water supply.

Outside the Governor’s address last night protesters were calling for his resignation, while others, including Rev. Jesse Jackson are calling for a legal response from the Department of Justice. President Obama also addressed the crisis today saying, “It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people.”

BOTTOM LINE: The Flint water crisis is an issue everyone—especially presidential candidates—should follow. It highlights the importance of properly investing in making sure our nation’s infrastructure is sound and that government officials at all levels work together to preserve public health and safety. In Michigan, accountability and transparency are critical to restore trust. And cities across the country can learn from Flint’s experience and take proactive steps to ensure every citizen has access to basic services.

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