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Jan Lee headshot

Finally: Flint's Lead-Tainted Water Pipes Will Be Replaced by 2020

By Jan Lee

It may be a tall order, but if everything goes the way lawmakers promises, Flint residents will have new, lead-free water pipes by 2020.

Faced with a lawsuit from Flint residents, the state of Michigan and the city of Flint hammered out a settlement to replace the city’s corroded pipes that are leaching lead into residents' drinking water. The settlement agreement was approved by a federal judge on Tuesday.

Here’s how it will work:

The state will pay $87 million to Flint, which will replace the city’s water pipes. As part of the court deal, the state agreed to put aside another $10 million in case of unforeseen expenses.

The legal settlement is enforceable by the courts, which means the city has three years to fulfill the commitment.

Not all of the money will come out of the state’s coffers, however. The $87 million includes the roughly $30 million that Congress allotted last year toward the effort.

The agreement also requires the state to maintain a door-to-door water filtration installation and education program and provide bottled water for residents.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which helped launch the suit, the state must also “extensively monitor” the city’s water. NRDC will receive copies of the test results.

Michigan will also continue to provide funding for seven medical programs that were set up to monitor and treat effects from lead exposure.

Dimple Chaudhary, a senior attorney with NRDC, said the settlement is a major step forward for residents, after nearly two years of legal effort to get the city to resolve its water crisis.

“This hard-fought victory means safer water for Flint. For the first time, there will be an enforceable commitment to get the lead pipes out of the ground. The people of Flint are owed at least this much,” Chaudhary said in a press statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan also represented plaintiffs in the suit.

“We are thrilled that, after nearly three years of grappling with lead-poisoned water, the residents of Flint can finally look forward to a long-term solution to a catastrophe that has devastated the community,” said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan and a member of the council representing plaintiffs on the case.

“This ground-breaking settlement marks a huge step toward restoring a long-neglected community to some semblance of normalcy.”

Meanwhile, struggles aren’t over for either residents or the city. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver announced last week that the city would start turning off the taps to a small number of homes and apartment complexes are at least five months behind in water payments, arguing that the city itself is struggling to pay its water bills.

“Customer payments are necessary to help the city of Flint collect the funds needed to pay over $1.2 million per month for treated water and provide for water and sewer services as Flint continues to recover from the effects of the man-made water crisis,” David Sabuda, the city’s interim finance officer, explained in a statement.

In February, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced that the state would stop paying water bill credits to Flint residences by March 1 because lead levels had dropped below federal maximum threshold. The city of Flint appealed, but was unable to convince the state to reverse its decision. Local stakeholders, as well as both Democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential election, have called on Snyder to resign for his role in the crisis.

The city says it has extended the deadline for delinquent customers to pay their bills until April 1, after which it will begin shutting off the taps.

Image credit: Wikimedia/Connor Coyne (PD)

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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