Pricey water in Flint

September 3, 2015

From the September-October issue of News & Letters

Flint, Mich.—This city formerly received its water through a pipeline from Lake Huron that was built by the Detroit Water Department (DWD) to provide water to communities between Lake Huron and Flint in the 1960s. As of April 2014, Flint stopped buying water from the DWD and reverted to using water from the Flint River, as Flint had done before the pipeline from Lake Huron was built. However, problems developed.

The intake from the Flint River is well upstream from any industrial or former industrial area, but the City of Flint found it necessary to use a lot of chlorine, which reacted with organic material in the water to form trihalomethanes. The EPA limits four trihalomethanes—chloroform, bromoform, bromodichloromethane, and dibromochloromethane—to .080 mg per liter. The level of total trihalomethanes has been as high as .099 mg per liter, which can lead to cancer and other medical problems in susceptible people. A new pipeline to Lake Huron that will be independent of the DWD is expected to be completed in 2016.

Even before Flint reverted to Flint River water, there was a big rate hike in 2011. We pay an average of $140 per month for water. In early August, Judge Archie Hayman ordered the City of Flint to cut water rates by 35% and stop water disconnections and liens for past due water bills immediately. He said that the City had illegally transferred $15.7 million in water and sewer funds in 2007 to the general fund.

The high water rates also result from Flint repaying water and sewer loans to Michigan. The current population of under 100,000 is paying for an infrastructure built for a city of 200,000 residents.

—Thirsty in Flint

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