Sonali Kolhatkar | Truthdig | January 27, 2016
By now most Americans have heard about the water crisis in Flint, a Michigan city of about 100,000 with a majority black population and high levels of lead in its water. With companies like Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola offering to donate millions of bottles of water to the city’s residents, there is a danger that the story of Flint will be seen as a calamity that turned into a saga of hope through charity.
The prevailing story is that a bankrupt government, desperate to save a few million dollars, switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River and thereby ended a contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). The river water contains toxins and also lacks appropriate chemicals, resulting in Flint’s aging pipes leaching dangerous levels of lead into the water supply. Residents were also exposed to E. coli and Legionnaires’ disease from the tainted water. Additionally, the pipes are now permanently damaged, putting the cost of repair at a much higher number than the initial savings.
But some are suggesting that the switch in supply had a more perverse motivation than saving money. A Detroit news website called the Motor City Muckraker obtained information that revealed DWSD made several offers to sell Flint water at reduced rates that “would have saved the city $800 million over 30 years.” According to the Muckraker, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released internal correspondence from 2014 and 2015 after the story broke but “he refused to release e-mails from 2013, which would have showed why state officials decided to make the switch.” The report’s author speculated that perhaps “Snyder was motivated by a desire to break up DWSD and ultimately privatize it.”