“Recent water tests at elementary schools in Flint have found an increase in samples showing lead levels above the federal action limit.”
That’s the opening line in an article in The Detroit News less than one month ago. Despite this, the state of Michigan, just days after turning control over the city back to local elected officials, declared the Flint Water Crisis over and announced that it is discontinuing providing bottled water to the city’s residents.
“We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” declared Gov. Rick Snyder, clearly unaware of testing results reported in the past month.
Existing bottled water supplies will be distributed until they are depleted, something that is likely to have happened by the time you read this. In the meantime, in what seems to be an inescapable mixed message, water filters for removing lead from tap water will continue to be made available free of charge through the end of the year.
This decision is inexplicable on a number of levels. Politically, any sensible politician would simply continue to offer the free bottled water until his or her term was up. Gov. Snyder leaves office at the end of 2018. It would have cost next to nothing for the state to continue to provide this service until that time when he could then dump the problem in his successor’s lap.
It’s also unbelievably tone-deaf given that the decision was announced a mere three days after the Snyder administration announced that it was approving a permit for Nestlé Waters North America to increase its withdrawal of ground water to produce Ice Mountain bottle water from 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute — 576,000 gallons per day. That’s enough water to nearly fill an Olympic-size swimming pool each day.
Every. Single. Day.
Over 210 million gallons a year.
The decision was made despite the state having received 80,945 comments in opposition to the increase for Nestlé, a corporation that pays a nominal $200 a year for the water that it sells at tremendous profit.
The number of folks who wrote into support the increase in water withdrawal for Nestlé?
But tone-deafness has been the hallmark of Gov. Snyder’s tenure in office.
Perhaps this self-proclaimed business genius could find a way to get Nestlé to give a little back to the state that is giving away millions of gallons of water for it to sell for the tiny fee of $200 a year. Nestlé ought to be happy to do this. After all, the company brags about how good a corporate citizen it is on its website:
Starting in October 2015, our Ice Mountain team began shipping water donations to help the residents of Flint. In January 2016, we partnered with Walmart and several beverage companies to pledge up to 6.5 million bottles of water to Flint public schools – enough water to meet the daily needs of over 10,000 school children for a full year.
Of course, if you scratch the surface of this statement, you realize that Nestlé is essentially taking credit for the charitable largesse of Walmart and “several [other] beverage companies” along with its own contribution of water it gets essentially for free. They likely receive a tasty tax break for this inadequate gesture, too, of course.
But Gov. Snyder won’t do this (and Nestlé certainly won’t do it voluntarily.) Snyder has been phoning in his job as governor for nearly a year now, appearing only briefly to endorse Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s gubernatorial bid last month before retreating into the shadows once again.
So, Flint is on its own. The state took over the city, poisoned its water, killed a dozen residents due to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease, destroyed its infrastructure, imposed an austerity budget on the beleaguered city, and then handed them back the keys to the kingdom. It’s the sort of story that you expect to hear about in a banana republic, not in a modern U.S. city. But that’s life under a corporatist Republican who set out to show how a state government should be run like a business.
The only question remaining is whether or not our state and our country has learned the terrible lesson he has taught us.
[Flint images by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog. CC image of the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre by Simon_sees from Australia, via Wikimedia Commons]