Living Downstream: The Flint Water Crisis

Flint, MI — once thrived as the home of the nation’s largest General Motors plant. The city’s economic decline began during the 1980s, when GM downsized its sprawling industrial complex.

Genesee County, where Flint is the largest city, has seen a significant increase in shigellosis, a highly communicable illness that “can be stopped by frequent and careful hand washing with soap and taking other hygiene measures,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Flint River had been the city’s primary water source decades earlier, but Flint switched to Lake Huron in 1967, purchasing its supply through the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said he has fizzled Flint inhabitants, however, vowed to find a way to settle the city’s drinking water emergency, beginning with conferring millions in state subsidizing and sending more National Guard individuals.

Historically, the water in the Flint River downstream of Flint has been of poor quality, and was severely degraded during the 1970s, due to “the presence of fecal coliform bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, oils, and toxic substances.” In 2001, the state ordered the monitoring and cleanup of 134 polluted sites within the Flint River watershed, including industrial complexes, landfills and farms laden with pesticides and fertilizer.

In 2011, the state of Michigan took over Flint’s finances after an audit projected a $25 million deficit. Even though Flint’s water supply fund was $9 million in the red, officials were using some of this money to cover shortfalls in its general fund. A receivership ended in April 2015, when the water fund was declared solvent and the remaining deficit was eliminated by an emergency loan.

The state has spent more than $200 million in Flint distributing more than 3 million cases of bottled water and 145,000 water filters. State officials are trying to convince residents to use the filters, but many just don’t trust them.

Flint residents and the surrounding counties are facing an uptick in a bacterial illness frequently associated with poor hand washing hygiene.