Michigan — This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Flint water crisis and many residents still don’t trust that they have clean water.
In case you don’t remember the details, here’s a quick recap: in April 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan switched its water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River and there have been problems ever since. Residents complained about the taste, smell and discolored appearance of the water.
It was later discovered that lead began seeping from pipes after the city made the switch to the Flint River for drinking water without properly treating it to minimize corrosion. With more than 100,000 people exposed to tainted water, a federal emergency was declared in 2016.
But if you don't live in Michigan like I do, here are some facts you need to know about the Flint water crisis.
Many Flint residents still don’t trust the water
While the city has replaced water lines after lead was discovered in 2015, many residents still don’t trust the drinking water.
As government officials say that lead levels are lower than ever, citizens still complain about discolored water, hair loss, rashes and physical illness due to lead exposure. Many still rely primarily on bottled water.
New water projects
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recently awarded Flint $77 million for infrastructure improvements. The money will fund a secondary water source pipeline and a water quality monitoring panel, among other things that government officials say will enhance the city’s water distribution system.
Water movement led by local residents
LeeAnne Walters was one of the first activists to start investigating the lead levels after the city tested the water supply in 2015. Later that year, Walters collected over 800 water samples and found lead levels more than twice the level the EPA classifies as hazardous waste.
After presenting her findings, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation to reconnect Flint back to Detroit's water supply. Walters continues her advocacy through the organization she founded Water You Fighting For?
There are also young activists, like Mari Copeny, known as "Little Miss Flint," on the front lines on the Flint water crisis. The 11-year-old gained national attention in 2016 when she wrote a letter to then President Barack Obama encouraging him to visit Flint. Obama replied and visited Flint and later signed off on $100 million in funding to assist Flint.
Copeny, who considers herself as a clean water activist, is also the founder of Dear Flint Kids, a project encouraging people to send positive letters of encouragement to Flint kids.
Flint residents sue the EPA
A federal judge recently ruled a lawsuit filed by Flint residents against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can move forward.
In the lawsuit, Flint residents contend that EPA officials and employees “negligently responded to the water crisis,” including not warning residents of the health risks posed by the hazardous water.
The ruling opens the door for thousands of Flint residents to receive compensation after being exposed to water contaminated with lead and bacteria.
It’s something that is not said a lot, but here in Michigan we’ve noticed a lot of celebrities getting in their photo ops while trying to help the Flint community. The publicity and support are much appreciated, with Cher tweeting about it in 2016, that same year my fellow Traverse City local Michael Moore showed up to a town hall rally.
Most recently, Jaden Smith partnered with a Flint church to deploy The Water Box, a mobile water filtration system that reduces lead and other hazardous contaminants. While not as many celebrities are paying attention to Flint five years later, for local residents the water crisis is far from over.