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Gov. Snyder moves to come up with $12 million to switch Flint's water back to Detroit's supply

Gov. Rick Snyder
Gov. Rick Snyder taking questions this morning after the announcment.

Gov. Rick Snyder this morning held a press conference in which he said he supports reconnecting the city of Flint’s water supply back to Detroit’s water system.

Snyder said he will ask the Legislature to provide half ($6 million) of the $12 million bill to reconnect the system. The city of Flint will pay $2 million, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation will contribute $4 million.

Mayor Dayne Walling said he expects the city to reconnect to the Detroit system in two weeks.

Last year, Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager, in a money saving move, ended the city’s connection to Detroit’s water supply and instead started using the Flint River for the city’s water source.

Multiple problems with the city’s water supply started soon after.

Independent research that found increasing lead levels in children in the city of Flint prompted government officials to act. The finding coincided with other independent findings of elevated levels of lead in the city’s drinking water supply.

Virginia Tech researchers found Flint River water to be more corrosive to the city’s old infrastructure. Lead leached from the old pipes into homes, schools, and businesses.

They say water from Detroit, which comes from Lake Huron, is less corrosive.

Snyder said the state is following the recommendation of the Flint water technical advisory committee that met yesterday. The committee recommended switching back to the Detroit system.

Detroit’s water supply has been “optimized” to control for corrosion of drinking water supply pipes.

But switching over will not immediately resolve the problem. More from the state’s press release:

However, reconnecting with the authority will not completely resolve the city’s problem with lead service lines or aging infrastructure. It will take time for pipes in Flint to become coated with the phosphate corrosion control. Additionally, some households in the city could experience lead in their drinking water until all lead pipes and plumbing are replaced.

Marc Edwards, a water quality expert from Virginia Tech University and one of the main researchers who brought the city’s lead problem to light, says he would expect lead levels to drop in one month after the switch back to Detroit water. However, as the lining of the water pipes has changed by running Flint River water through the system, the system will have to continually monitored.

In a statement, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said making the switch is the quickest way to resolve the problem.

"Reconnecting to Detroit is the fastest way to deliver clean, safe water to Flint and stabilize the infrastructure system,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said. “I appreciate the state, the Mott Foundation, Detroit, and the county's participation in a solution for Flint's water problems. The health and safety of Flint's families, children and seniors is my top priority, and reconnecting to Detroit is a major step that the city could not take alone given budget constraints."

In an e-mail statement, Lynna Kaucheck of Food & Water Watch was critical of the state's handling of Flint's drinking water issues.

"Unfortunately the switch may come too late for some Flint children who will suffer a lifetime of consequences from having been poisoned by the high levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water," Kaucheck wrote. "We can only hope that Governor Snyder and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) learn from this tragedy and moving forward implement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule to it’s fullest extent."

In addition to the switch, state officials say they will continue to supply water filters to people in the city, offer free lead tests to Flint water customers, and hire more staff to continue health exposure monitoring in the city.

*This post has been updated.

Mark Brush was Michigan Radio’s Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.