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Flint Water Crisis: City to Replace 18,000 Lead-Tainted Water Pipes

Thousands of Flint residents are still forced to rely on bottled water or home water filters due to the city’s tainted water supply. Photo by Carlos Osorio/AP.

As part of a sweeping deal to settle a lawsuit brought by residents over lead-tainted water, Michigan and the City of Flint agreed Monday, March 27, to replace at least 18,000 home water lines in the struggling community.

Flint has promised to replace thousands of lead and galvanized steel lines by 2020, leaving the state to foot the bill, according to the agreement filed in federal court. Michigan will set aside $87 million for the repairs and hold an additional $10 million in reserve, if necessary.

So far, more than 700 of the city’s water pipes have been replaced, but work is still ongoing, the Associated Press reported. Monday’s settlement has since given Flint’s 100,000 some-odd residents peace of mind over who would pay for the much-needed upgrades.

The agreement was approved by U.S. District Judge David Lawson on Tuesday, March 28, resolving the case once and for all.

“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,” Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director for the ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement. “The Flint Water Crisis has its roots in the state’s toxic emergency manager law and is a tragic example of what happens when state government displaces democracy to save a few bucks.”

“This groundbreaking settlement marks a huge step toward restoring a long-neglected community to some semblance of normalcy,” he added.

The City of Flint found itself in the midst of a water contamination crisis after local officials switched the city’s water supply to the highly polluted Flint River in April 2014, causing toxic lead to leach into the water supply. It took state officials, including Gov. Rick Snyder, nearly three months to notify residents that their water had been tainted. To this day, thousands of residents are still forced to rely on bottled water and home water filters for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Under the terms of the settlement, Michigan must provide $97 million to the City of Flint for replacement of lead and galvanized steel pipes at no cost to city residents; $47 million will come straight from state funding sources, while the other $50 million will come from federal and state funds allocated for Flint by Congress, a National Resources Defense Council press release stated. The nonprofit, which aims to protect public health and the environment, has worked with the ACLU of Michigan to represent Flint residents in the lawsuit.

In addition, the agreement requires the state to expand and maintain its program for water filter installation and education through December 2018, promise water availability at water distribution centers across Flint until September 2017, ensure water delivery to homebound residents until at least July 1, 2017, and provide funding for seven existing medical programs aimed at mitigating the effects of lead exposure for Flint residents.

“The proposed agreement is a win for the people of Flint,” Dimple Chaudhary, a lawyer with the NRDC told the Associated Press. “It provides a comprehensive framework to address lead in Flint tap water and covers a number of critical issues related to water safety.”

The suggested settlement comes just weeks after the EPA approved a $100-million grant for Flint to repair its crumbling water system. Former President Barack Obama signed off on the bipartisan funding bill shortly before leaving office last year.

Even after receiving new water lines, Flint residents will be advised to continue using home water filters for at least six months. Filter replacement cartridges and household testing kits will remain free of charge.

The city also will continue to test for lead every six months up until one year after all pipes are replaced, AP reported, and an independent monitor will be required to check household water samples for elevated lead levels.

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