A deep dive into the source of Flint’s water crisis

Tunnel vision

Apr 19, 2017 at 4:00 am
A deep dive into the source of Flint’s water crisis
Photo illustration by Robert Nixon

On Wednesday, as this story was going to press, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver unexpectedly announced support for a plan to permanently stay with the Great Lakes Water Authority, which has been the city’s temporary water source since abandoning use of the Flint River 18 months ago. This new plan allows Flint to escape a controversial deal committing it to future use of Karegnondi pipeline water treated at the city’s costly, aging water plant. Here’s the story behind that ill-fated pipeline deal and its connection to Flint’s ongoing crisis…

On April 25
, Flint's residents will mark a grim anniversary.

Three years ago, in an ill-fated attempt to save a few million dollars, state officials decided to draw the city's drinking water from the highly corrosive Flint River while the new Karegnondi pipeline connecting Genesee County to Lake Huron was being built.

The world now knows what happened after that.

Lead contaminated the water supply in a city of nearly 100,000 people. Massive damage was done to already crumbling infrastructure. And an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, likely caused by improperly treated river water, killed at least 12 people and sickened scores more.

Even though Flint was allowed to return to the regional system that had provided clean water for nearly 50 years, water still needs to be run through a filter for it to be safe to drink.

Exactly when life will return to something resembling normal in Flint is an unanswered question.

Also unknown is the fate of 13 state and local officials who've been criminally charged in connection to the disaster. Federal, state, and local prosecutors continue to investigate, and there's a possibility more charges could be brought.

Floating in and out of the news about the disaster has been that new $285 million pipeline and the quasi-public entity in charge of building it, the Karegnondi Water Authority.

Last year, a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to investigate the causes of the disaster urged prosecutors to do a "complete and thorough review of the development and approval of KWA and of the City of Flint's commitments to KWA water purchases."

Since then, four officials — including two of the city's former emergency managers — have been charged for allegedly using false pretenses to obtain an $85 million loan needed to finance Flint's share of the new pipeline.

And then there's a report issued earlier this year by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, which spent nearly a year investigating the crisis to determine what role, if any, racism played in creating this completely avoidable manmade disaster.

Largely unnoticed in that process is testimony provided by two people. One of them is Jeff Wright, the Genesee County drain commissioner and KWA CEO who spearheaded the drive to build the new pipeline.

The other is Peter Hammer, an economist and Wayne State University Law School professor who also heads WSU's Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. Hammer is also, among other things, a member of a volunteer committee of lawyers who serve as advisers to the ACLU of Michigan.

Together, through the testimony each provided to the MCRC, the two men provide detailed insight on the conflicting narratives that frame the two sides of the Karegnondi controversy.

In Wright's telling, this is the story of a struggle by Genesee County and its communities to free themselves of the price-gouging and corruption of a monopoly water system previously run by the city of Detroit and currently operated by the Great Lakes Water Authority, which took over control as the result of a deal struck while Detroit was going through bankruptcy.

And then there's the view offered by Hammer, who pieced together a much darker picture by combing through the thousands of Flint-related emails released by the state, court documents, and other records that are publicly available.

This is what he sees: A city with an African-American majority and a poverty rate of 40 percent. A city where democracy was curtailed and replaced by an austerity-driven autocracy that put cost-cutting above all else, and racism and political power grabbing combined to produce tragic consequences.

"Nothing about what happened in Flint was accidental," asserts Hammer. "Flint needs to be understood as a morality play illustrating the dangers of emergency management and fiscal austerity. Flint needs to stand as a profound multi-generational testimony to the dangers of strategic-structural racism in the same manner as the Tuskegee tragedy forever shames medical science."

Dueling testimony

click to enlarge Peter Hammer - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Peter Hammer

In testimony delivered to the MCRC last July, Wayne State's Hammer is unequivocal in his assessment that racism played a critical role in the takeover of Flint by the state and the decision to leave the Detroit system to get water from a new $285 million pipeline.

"The list of individuals and agencies contributing to the Flint water crisis is long," he writes. "But for our country's failure to understand the root cause of municipal distress in the context of structural racism, the Flint tragedy would never have occurred."

Wright took great umbrage at Hammer's testimony. Responding with written testimony of his own in November 2016, Wright didn't try to conceal his disdain for Hammer's analysis, declaring:

"A number of misstatements, half-truths, and outright lies have been told about me, my office, and KWA. Among the lies, that I am racist, and KWA is a racist organization."

Insisting that those claims are groundless, Wright adds that the allegations of racism "are among the most severe and insulting accusations one person can make against another in this society."

In Wright's analysis, the decision to build a new pipeline that would allow Flint and the rest of Genesee County to leave the Detroit system was driven purely by economics. "Racism, intentional racism, structural racism, unconscious bias, and, most significantly, strategic racism do not explain everything about the Flint Water Crisis," he argues. "In fact, they explain very little."

‘Nothing about what happened in Flint was accidental. Flint needs to be understood as a morality play illustrating the dangers of emergency management and fiscal austerity.’

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The Michigan Civil Rights Commission, however, found racism to be a key factor in the Flint crisis after its yearlong investigation:

"Would the Flint water crisis have been allowed to happen in Birmingham, Ann Arbor, or East Grand Rapids? We believe the answer is no, and that the vestiges of segregation and discrimination found in Flint made it a unique target. The lack of political clout left the residents with nowhere to turn, no way to have their voices heard."

History of problems

The Karegnondi isn't the first time Flint tried to build a pipeline. As Wright points out in his testimony, the Flint River provided water to the city's residents and industry from the early 1900s up until the 1960s. At that point, it became clear that the river "could not supply sufficient drinking water to serve Flint's growing population and industries."

But that first attempt to build a pipeline of its own ran into some real trouble.

"Flint's efforts to build its own pipeline were stymied by corrupt officials," explains Wright. "The city initially planned a cross-country route for the pipeline and began to buy land along the route to install the pipeline. ... A handful of Flint officials had inside information about the route and bought up land along it, seeking to resell the land to the city at a dramatic markup. The corrupt scheme was uncovered, and trust in those running the project evaporated."

The filing of criminal charges effectively scuttled the plan.

"Detroit then stepped in, built its own pipeline and sold water to Flint," observes Wright. "Instead of owning its own system, Flint was forced to buy water from Detroit."

That part of the narrative is not disputed.

But then Wright makes an assertion that goes to the heart of the justification for building the Karegnondi.

From the 1960s on, claims Wright, "Detroit charged whatever Detroit felt like charging for drinking water, and our community was forced to pay whatever it cost."

The problem with that claim is that it ignores the reality of Michigan law. When it was still in the business of selling treated water to cities throughout southeast Michigan, Detroit, as is now the case with the GLWA, was required by state law to only charge municipalities what it cost to treat and deliver water to its customers.

click to enlarge Jeff Wright - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Jeff Wright

In other words, the city was prohibited from using its water department to generate a profit from its suburban customers.

Hammer himself makes that point in a second piece of written testimony submitted to the MCRC at the end of 2016.

"In truth," explains Hammer, "DWSD (like most public utilities) is highly regulated and is forbidden to make a profit. DWSD is required by state law to charge wholesale prices to its municipal customers that reflect cost of delivery. Obviously, there can be disagreements as to how costs are defined and what rates are reasonable, but Mr. Wright, Flint, and Genesee County always retained the right to challenge DWSD rates in court if they were excessive or unjustified."

Instead of pursuing that option, Wright demonized Detroit.

The prevailing narrative is reflected in his testimony, taking aim at two corruption scandals. One occurred in the 1980s, when the head of the water department landed in prison after getting caught taking bribes from a sludge-hauling company. More recently, former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's water department head, Victor Mercado, served time in a halfway house after pleading guilty to illegally steering contracts to a crony of Kilpatrick's.

"As DWSD continued raising its prices and Detroit officials continued going to prison for corruption, service to Flint and Genesee continued to deteriorate," contends Wright. "DWSD's system was very unreliable. During the blackouts of 2003, Flint and Genesee County were cut off from water delivery from the DWSD system for four days."

‘I’ve seen firsthand the economic hardships Flint residents face, and refused to sit idly by while DWSD used its monopoly to gouge Flint and its residents.’

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The blackout Wright refers to as an example of Detroit water's reliability problems was one of the largest ever in North America, with eight states and parts of Ontario losing power.

As Wright points out in his examination of the corruption that scuttled Flint's first attempt to build a pipeline in the 1960s, malfeasance on the part of public officials isn't a phenomenon that's limited to Detroit.

In fact, Wright himself has had at least one close encounter with law enforcement.

Former Genesee County Prosecutor Arthur Busch told the Free Press last year that he wanted to charge Wright with money laundering related to campaign contributions in 2005, but "was unable to do so because of legal issues involving the statute of limitations."

"What I'm surprised at is how Wright has avoided any scrutiny," Busch added. "He's in charge of water for the whole ... county."

Wright was never charged with any crime. He did, however, become a snitch for the federal government. He wore a wire to record conversations with Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle, who was sentenced to 37 months in prison for his role in a corruption scandal involving then-Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers.

None of Wright's secretly recorded conversations with Riddle were ever presented at trial. Riddle boasts that he was too cagey to be entrapped by Wright. He's also pointed out that people who end up becoming informants seldom come to the job with clean hands.

"Normally the FBI does not have one serve as an informant unless that individual has what we call on the streets as weight on them," Riddle told MLive. "To that end, all I can say for the record is I don't know what the FBI has on him, but my experience leads me to believe they have something."

Wright cast his role as an informant in a different light, issuing a statement saying that he was merely acting as a good citizen and answering law enforcement's call for assistance in a corruption investigation.

Pieces put in place

The pieces necessary for Flint to become part of the KWA began falling into place in 2012. In a memo to DEQ officials in January of that year, John O'Malia, an engineer working with the KWA, laid out the situation at that point.

Jeff Wright and the KWA didn't need Flint's participation to build the new pipeline. But it did need the city onboard if it was going to maximize the pipeline's potential by increasing its diameter to allow the most water possible to flow through it.

There was one seemingly insurmountable obstacle in the way of that plan, however.

Flint was broke.

Mayor Dayne Walling, a strong supporter of the KWA and chairman of its board, had been re-elected. Mike Brown, who'd previously served as the city's interim mayor and also supported the project, had been appointed Flint's emergency manager by the governor.

O'Malia also pointed out that the emergency manager had given powers back to the mayor and council to "make decisions on KWA as a precaution if the EM court challenge holds up. This will enable the Mayor and Council to approve the KWA agreement and not be challenged in court!"

It was the only area of city operations the council was given authority to address.

O'Malia expected that approval from city officials to come within a month or two. Instead, the process dragged on for more than a year.

In December 2012, the engineering consulting firm Tucker, Young, Jackson, Tull, Inc.,which had been commissioned by the Michigan Department of Treasury to analyze Flint's water options, presented its findings. The Detroit-based consulting firm, which has a history of working with DWSD, determined that the cheapest option for Flint would be to use a combination of Lake Huron water from the Detroit system blended with Flint River water.

But the potential liability of mixing hard-to-treat river water with the Lake Huron water supplied by Detroit raised concerns. Because of that, the consultant said that the best option appeared to be for DWSD to build a second pipeline from Imlay City to Flint. This would provide the backup water source required by law, spreading the cost of construction across the entire Detroit system.

Significantly, that second pipeline would allow Flint to either shut down or sell its water treatment plant, which is decades old and costly to operate.

When DWSD spokesman Bill Johnson wrote about the report's findings, Wright quickly responded, lashing out at both DWSD and Tucker Young.

"It is sad that we are currently seeking politics as usual when it comes to bias within Detroit, and now this has been extended to Tucker Young," Wright said in a press release. "This firm has too many connections to folks within the DWSD to be taken credibly, especially when you look at all of the inaccuracies it contains. Tucker Young and the Detroit politicians have one goal in mind, continuing the revolving door of money out of the pockets of Flint residents, and into the hands of Detroit interests to subsidize their own mismanagement."

A counter-analysis was provided by Rowe Engineering, a Flint-based firm that had been hired by KWA to do work on the Karegnondi pipeline. Years earlier Rowe had looked at the possibility of using the Flint River as the city's permanent water source and determined that nearly $70 million in upgrades to the water treatment plant and reservoirs would be required, Hammer reports.

This time around, Rowe determined that becoming part of the Karegnondi would be the best option.

Given the conflicting analyses from two engineering firms offering radically different perspectives (with each having financial ties that created an inherent conflict of interest), it would seem reasonable that Flint's emergency manager and the Michigan Department of Treasury would seek out a third opinion from an independent consultant free of any such conflicts.

But that never happened.

At the insistence of the governor, however, Detroit was asked to come back with a new, final offer, which it did in April. By that point, both Flint and Detroit were under the control of emergency managers appointed by Snyder.

"Little is publicly written about this [Detroit's final] proposal because Governor Snyder imposed a media blackout on the negotiating parties," writes Hammer. "... the Governor called a meeting on April 19, 2013 of all the principals. DWSD was permitted to submit a more detailed counteroffer on April 24."

That proposal, according to DWSD, would save Flint and the Genesee County more than $900 million as compared to the KWA alternative over the 30-year contract period.

Wright says it is impossible for Detroit to have delivered the cost-savings promised.

It also addressed Flint's concerns about the lack of control by opening up the possibility that someone from Genesee County could serve on the DWSD's board of commissioners.

Flint emergency manager Kurtz quickly rejected the offer.

Ultimately, however, the decision about where Flint would be getting its water from was in the hands of the Michigan Department of Treasury.

On April 17, Jim Fausone, then director of the DWSD board of Water Commissioners, sent an email to Treasurer Andy Dillon and other state officials saying the newest proposal could save Flint and Genesee County 20 percent over 30 years when compared to KWA. "If the decision is about economics or engineering," he wrote, "I don't see how F/G proceeds with KWA."

Snyder chief of staff Dennis Muchmore emailed Dillon asking, "So, if the last DWSD proposal saves so much money, why are we moving ahead with KWA? I take it that Flint doesn't trust them and is just fed up? Does [emergency manager] Kurtz have his head on straight here?"

"That is the $64,000 question," responded Dillon. "DEQ is firm that KWA is better. Are they an honest broker?"

That question remained unanswered.

After Detroit's offer had been further refined, TYJT President George Karmo emailed Dillon with his analysis of what would be DWSD's final proposal.

"We have reviewed DWSD's final offer to Flint/Genesee County of April 24, 2013 and find it responsive to Flint's concerns and their water demand requirements."

One important factor, noted Karmo, was DWSD's ability to finance the building of a new pipeline.

"Since Flint is unable to cost-effectively bond capital," wrote Karmo, "the cost of financing could be easily obtained by DWSD."

Dillon ultimately accepted emergency manager Kurtz's recommendation to go with the Karegnondi.

But there was a hitch.

"No one explained how Flint would finance the KWA option," says Hammer.

click to enlarge Map of the Karegnondi pipeline.
Map of the Karegnondi pipeline.

'Sham' financing

Flint was broke. That's no secret. The city's dire financial situation is the reason the state came in and took control in 2011.

The city of nearly 100,000 people had a $13 million deficit and no credit rating.

So, when the decision was made to join the Karegnondi project, the question became: Where will the city constrained by state-imposed debt limits and no interest from bond sellers come up with $85 million needed to pay for its share of the costs to build a pipeline from Lake Huron to Genesee County?

Two attempts to obtain the loan through conventional methods had already failed to gain Treasury's approval. The answer was to engage in what prosecutors have alleged was a classic "bait and switch" scam to get around the city's debt limits.

In December, the Michigan Attorney General's Office brought felony charges against two former state-appointed emergency managers and two former city officials, alleging they used "false pretenses" to borrow $87 million by claiming it was needed to address an environmental calamity involving a lime sludge lagoon at the Flint water treatment plant.

According to the warrant request filed by prosecutors, the "lime sludge disposal facility was used as a premise for obtaining the funds needed to finance the City of Flint's contribution to the KWA pipeline. Factually, this was a sham transaction designed under false pretenses to obtain money for the KWA."

Oddly, the AG's office also signed off on the same loan it now claims was illegal.

The unusual nature of the loan raised eyebrows at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, where one staffer referred to it as a "sweetheart" deal involving what's known as an "administrative consent order," or ACO.

In March, 2014, David Massaron, then a Miller Canfield attorney working on the KWA bond issue, emailed Flint finance director Gerald Ambrose and emergency manager Darnell Earley, informing them of the importance of obtaining the ACO loan so that the whole pipeline project could proceed.

Time was of the essence.

"If there is much more of a delay, the KWA will have expended its initial resources and be forced to stop construction and the project will be delayed for at least one more construction cycle," Massaron wrote.

As Hammer reports, when the agreement was finalized shortly after that, it contained the stipulation — mandated by bond counsel — that Flint would use the river as a temporary water source until KWA water became available.

That stipulation sealed the city's fate, locking it into using the river water. A month later, then-emergency manager Darnell Earley rejected a final offer from Detroit, which desperately wanted to keep selling Flint water until the pipeline was completed.

Drain Commissioner Wright puts a different spin on the issue in his testimony to the civil Rights Commission. In his opinion, Flint didn't face any problems when it came to borrowing money, and didn't need the help of a shady deal to float bonds. The only hitch was the lime sludge pond. That problem had to be addressed before a loan could go through.

"This explanation runs counter to all contemporaneous documents, including those from KWA's own bond counsel," counters Hammer.

Prosecutors have agreed with Hammer's take on the issue.

Wright has chastised them as well, issuing a letter where he claims their case is plagued by "factual errors" and "foundational discrepancies."

What the frack?

Why did Genesee County need to construct a new pipeline duplicating what was already being provided by a regional system?

Wright's explanation is straightforward. The price-gouging by Detroit, and subsequently the Great Lakes Water Authority that replaced DWSD as the wholesale water supplier for southeast Michigan, provided all the motivation needed for Genesee County and Flint to take control of their own water destiny.

But there's also been much speculation that the project was pushed to allow for water-intensive natural gas fracking in the region.

"I'm not sure if there's anything to it," wrote blogger Mark Maynard, "but I think it's an interesting thought to consider... What if Flint was taken over in part because certain powerful people wanted to have the KWA pipeline built, thereby opening up new areas to the water-intensive business of fracking? What if the entire Flint water crisis came about not just because the Snyder-appointed emergency manager saw an opportunity to save money by transitioning away from Detroit water, but because word had been given that a pipeline had to be built? As far as conspiracy theories go, it's a pretty compelling one..."

Certainly, appointed emergency managers were committed to Flint participating in the pipeline to the fullest extent possible, even if doing so wasn't in the best interests of the city.

As the Metro Times reported last year, when the Flint City Council voted to contract with the KWA for delivery of 16 million gallons of water per day, then-Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz unilaterally committed the city to 18 million gallons per day. That increase, at a cost of as much as $1 million per year, allowed the KWA to increase the diameter of the pipeline it planned to build, maximizing the amount of water it would deliver to the entire region.

If, however, Detroit was willing to build a new pipeline supplying the region, the issue of fracking wasn't the determining factor.

In the eyes of WSU's Hammer, the real issue was political power.

The $285 million needed to construct the pipeline "is a substantial amount of money to control and hand out," writes Hammer. "Contractors are known to establish and maintain relationships with politicians through campaign contributions. Politicians, in turn, can help channel contributions to other public officials to expand their own sphere of influence. Whether KWA's influence is just an extreme and tragic illustration of politics as usual or whether there is something more at work is still unanswered."

An ACLU of Michigan analysis of contributions to Wright's 2016 campaign reveals that, of the nearly $270,000 he raised during that election cycle, at least $188,000 — roughly 70 percent — came from political action committees and employees of companies doing business directly with the KWA or working on the pipeline in some capacity.

In a written response to ACLU questions, Wright says, "Construction contracts for my office are competitively bid, with the lowest qualified bidder awarded each contract. Any campaign donations I receive meet all required standards, and the amounts are either similar, or less than other county-wide officials in our region and state. In fact, based on a yearly average, I raised less money after KWA became a real potential than I did earlier in my political career. Any assertion that KWA was an avenue to increased campaign donations is simply not valid."

Among Wright's biggest contributors is the Houston-based engineering and project management firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam. The firm, one of the Karegnondi's primary contractors, helped conduct a 2009 study that touted the value of Genesee County leaving the Detroit system and building its own pipeline — a pipeline that the company, along the other firms involved in the study, is now building.

During the last election, in which Wright's only competition was write-in candidates, the firm's Political Action Committee contributed $12,000 to his campaign.

Last June, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a civil suit against LAN, accusing the firm of professional negligence and fraud in connection with its work preparing the Flint water treatment plant to begin handling river water while the Karegnondi was being constructed.

Central to the case is the issue of failing to treat the river water with legally required corrosion inhibitors — chemicals that were needed to keep lead from leeching into the tap water of residents.

"We believe that this lawsuit has no merit and will vigorously defend our position in court," the company said in a statement. It blames the city and state for creating the disaster.

Buyer's remorse

The way Hammer sees it, enough pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place to form a fairly clear picture of how the Karegnondi ultimately led to the Flint water crisis.

It wasn't because, as city and state officials falsely claimed, Detroit kicked Flint off of its system when the decision was made to join the Karegnondi. A longterm contract was canceled. But, as a crucial letter obtained by the ACLU of Michigan through the Freedom of Information Act proves, Detroit clearly offered to sell water to Flint while the pipeline was being built. It was EM Darnell Earley — one of 13 people charged in connection to the crisis — who flatly rejected Detroit's final offer just before the switch to the river occurred in April 2014.

As Wright himself points out, the rest of Genesee County continued receiving Detroit water. And no one in an official capacity could take seriously the notion that Detroit, even if it wanted to, would be allowed to deprive an entire city of its water supply.

The difference, contends Hammer, was that the rest of Genesee County could afford to pay for the clean, safe water being provided by Detroit, and Flint could not.

And the reason it couldn't, he argues, was that the cost of paying for its share of the new pipeline, while at the same time making improvements to its water treatment plant, made it impossible for the cash-starved city to pay for the higher-priced water Detroit was able to charge without a contract in place.

As is now known, Flint couldn't even afford to update its 40-year-old treatment plant so that it could adequately treat the river water. But in its rush to cut costs, the state — with the city under the control of emergency managers — allowed the switch to the river to take place anyway. As a result, the highly corrosive river water began tearing pipes apart, allowing frightfully high levels of lead to leach into the water, exposing the entire city to a powerful neurotoxin that affects every system in the human body — which is especially harmful to young children and pregnant women.

"A core failure leading to the Flint River water crisis was the myopic focus on comparing KWA-DWSD [Detroit Water & Sewerage Department] wholesale rates without engaging in full cost accounting for all the expenses necessary to transition Flint from DWSD to the KWA," asserts Hammer.

"Not only were the full costs of the KWA decision not accounted for," he explains, "no effort was made to help Flint finance these costs, other than its share of KWA construction. KWA was approved, but the City of Flint was left holding the bag. This failing lies at the heart of the decision to turn to the Flint River as an interim water source of drinking water."

That "myopic focus" on wholesale rates also directed attention away from an even more significant issue: the costs of operating Flint's water treatment plant and maintaining the city's water infrastructure system.

‘All of the parties … had direct incentives to hide and cover up problems with the Flint River. They were complicit in the crisis from the beginning.’

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According to the most recent estimates, it's going to require more than $100 million to prepare the WTP to begin treating water from the Karegnondi. Beyond that are the problems associated with a vast system of water mains within the city that leak 40 to 50 percent of the treated water that's pumped into them.

A May 2016 analysis of Flint water rates predicted that water bills for the city's residents, already among the highest in the nation, could double by the year 2022.

In June 2016, Flint's new mayor, Karen Weaver, announced that efforts to extricate Flint from the KWA would be futile.

"Neither myself, nor members of my administration were at the table when these deals were made and I think the City of Flint got a raw deal," Weaver said. "I examined the paperwork, had discussions with city council, other stakeholders, and even gotten legal advice to see what all the options are. While some say the contracts were not in 'good faith' I have been informed that they are legally binding. I don't know who thought these were good decisions for Flint or why they did, but this is where we find ourselves today and we've got to make the best of the situation."

Flint water rates, already among the highest in the nation, could double by the year 2022. - Courtesy of the ACLU of Michigan
Courtesy of the ACLU of Michigan
Flint water rates, already among the highest in the nation, could double by the year 2022.

Mopping up

Another key piece to the disaster's big picture is what Hammer describes as the "united front" formed by the emergency manager and mayor, the KWA and the Genesee County Drain Commission, and the state's Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] and Treasury.

By February 2015, the issue of possible lead contamination of Flint's water began to surface when U.S. EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral began asking questions about how Flint was treating the highly corrosive river water.

Having laid the foundation for the disaster by engineering Flint's participation in the KWA and creating a situation where the city had to rely on an ill-prepared water treatment plant using low-cost river water, they were motivated to insist that the water was safe.

"Once water from the Flint River started to flow into Flint homes, members of the 'united front' started playing a game of defense," contends Hammer. "All of the parties ... had direct incentives to hide and cover up problems with the Flint River. They were complicit in the crisis from the beginning. DEQ, in particular, appears to have adopted a strategy to 'run out the clock' in terms of environmental oversight, believing that all would be forgotten once the KWA pipeline was constructed and the river was no longer in play."

At least that's his view.

There's also Wright's perspective that's laid out in his testimony:

"While I have no jurisdiction over the Flint water system, I have represented the residents of Flint as their County Drain Commissioner for more than 16 years. I've seen firsthand the economic hardships Flint residents face, and refused to sit idly by while DWSD used its monopoly to gouge Flint and its residents. Professor Hammer thinks I should have just watched as Flint and other Genesee County residents overpaid for water, and do nothing about it."

Hammer has a decidedly different perspective:

"While the City of Flint's financial participating in the KWA pipeline was deemed indispensable, the same could not be said for the lives and well-being of its residents," Hammer concludes. "Flint lives could be and were gambled with."

Curt Guyette is an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan. He can be reached at [email protected] or 313-578-6834.