Without any extra funding, the city of Flint, Michigan will run out of the money it needs to keep buying bottled water and water filters for residents in 51 days.
The federal government declared a state of emergency for the city in January after news of the water contamination crisis, in which the city failed to use corrosion control chemicals when it switched water sources and lead leached into its drinking water for years, made national headlines. The state of emergency meant that the government picked up 75 percent of the cost of buying bottled water and filters.
But that designation lapsed on Sunday. The state will now have to cover the entire cost, which is estimated to come to $3.5 million a month, or $117,400 a day. The state had put aside $6 million for the costs, but that money will soon get eaten up as it shoulders the entire burden.
The water quality in the city has been improving, and officials are urging residents to drink from filtered taps. But the latest citizen-led testing shows that while the city is close to ending the public health disaster, it’s still not safe to drink straight tap water yet. Meanwhile, during the peak of the crisis lead levels were so high that filters couldn’t remove all of the toxic chemical.
“The Flint system is on its way to recovery,” Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineering professor who helped uncover the original contamination, said when releasing the results last week. But, he added, “No one is saying the water is safe to drink yet,” urging people to continue using filters and bottled water.
The city began providing residents with bottled water and filters, which have to have their cartridges regularly replaced, in January after the local health department declared a public health emergency in October of 2015 and Flint’s mayor declared a state of emergency in December.
Residents and local officials had called for extra funding from Congress, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers put together an aid package of $100 million, money that could go a long way toward keeping bottled water and filters flowing. But Republican Senators, first Ted Cruz (TX) and then Mike Lee (UT), kept holding it up and it never got passed.
Residents will likely have a difficult time buying their own water and filters if help runs out. More than 40 percent of people in Flint live in poverty. Meanwhile, they were already being charged the highest rates for their water services in the country, even while that water was contaminated with lead.