Many of you have heard about the water crisis in the city of Flint. It’s making national news.
Essentially the short version (and the short version doesn’t do justice to the actual reality) is that years ago an emergency manager was appointed to handle Flint’s financial woes and in an effort to save money the water supply was changed from the Detroit system and the Lake Huron to the Flint River. Turns out the water from the Flint River ran through old pipes and the combination was deadly. Now there is lead contaminated tap water in homes, businesses, and schools. The water had been consumed for over a year before people persistently making noise finally caught media, and thus government, attention.
Of course it is much more complicated than that. There are all sorts of politics involved. And charges that only minority dominated cities were put under emergency management in the first place. But the bottom line is that once again concern about money trumped concern about people’s safety.
Tuesday night our governor gave his State of the State speech and he spent most of it talking about Flint. He explained the timeline of events from his point of view, and though he took ultimate responsibility, he also wanted to assure everyone that his people had not told him about the magnitude of the problem until recently. And he’s going to prove that by releasing his emails.
Somehow none of that is making anyone feel better.
Early Wednesday I went for my walk up at the mall. Walking alone, I had plenty of time to notice the snippets of conversation between other walkers. Here’s just a bit of what I heard, each of these from a different pair of walkers.
“Governor Snyder said he didn’t ….”
“The corrosive water ran through the old pipes and leached lead into the water…”
“We don’t want to hear you say you’re sorry…”
“Well, it just really seems like…”
“I don’t know how it all can be fixed…”
“Finger pointing won’t help…”
“None of the Republican candidates are talking about water…”
“Who’s going to pay…”
I’ll let your imagination finish these conversations. Regardless of where your mind takes you it will be a dark place. There are no easy answers to this monumental problem. The governor has declared Flint a disaster area. The National Guard is passing out bottled water and filters. The mayor of Flint has had a meeting with President Obama in the oval office and the President has promised to help.
But ultimately the problem will take years to correct. And the underlying political issues? Those may never be sorted out. When General Motors abandoned Flint, taking with it thousands of jobs, many people left the city. The resultant lowered tax base couldn’t meet the needs. Inept politicians ran the city, ultimately causing financial ruin and emergency management. Should that have happened? Whose fault is it?
More importantly, what can be done to avoid in the future the series of events that led one community down the garden path to tainted water?
Change is hard.