Four years after the city of Flint, Michigan began using the heavily polluted Flint River as a drinking water source, resulting in the city's water crisis, Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced legislation to ensure such a catastrophe never again occurs in an American city.
"Today marks the four-year anniversary of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, but the reality is water infrastructure around the country has been neglected for decades," said Ellison in a statement. "Low-income communities and communities of color can't be expected to thrive when they lack basic necessities like water. We are one of the richest nations in the world: it is time to guarantee clean water as a right for all."
The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2018 would strengthen the country's neglected public water infrastructure in which aging pipes carry water and neglected sewer systems release 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage into rivers, streams, and lakes—resulting in thousands of cases of water-borne illness each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We are one of the richest nations in the world: it is time to guarantee clean water as a right for all." —Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)The repair efforts included in the bill would create nearly a million jobs, according to Ellison and Khanna, while providing clean water to millions of Americans.
Months after Flint residents began using the local river for their drinking source, tests revealed that E.coli and other disease-causing bacteria were contaminating the water. A year later, dangerous levels of lead were detected in many Flint homes.
Today, the quality of Flint's water has improved, with the same Virginia Tech experts who warned of the lead contamination declaring last September that lead levels had returned to normal—but still cautioning residents to use water filters.
But many Flint residents say that will never again drink from a tap.
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"I know as far as the lead in the water that's okay, but it's the lack of trust that was never rebuilt," LeeAnne Walters, a local activist who was just awarded with the Goldman Environmental Prize for helping to bring the crisis to the world's attention, told the Guardian. "How do I put my kids in that, knowing they've suffered?"
Filmmaker and activist Michael Moore—a Flint native who chronicled the town's decline after General Motors began closing its factories there in the 1980s—drove this point home last week when he sprayed water from a truck marked "Flint Water" at the Michigan Capitol, imploring Gov. Rick Snyder, who recently ended free bottle water service for the town, to drink it.
Many locals also continue to suffer from long-term physical ailments, including lung and kidney damage. And the town's economic difficulties persist, with more than 41 percent of residents living in poverty.
"Water is not the worst thing that happened to Flint. Poverty and disinvestment are the worst things that happened to Flint," Debra Furr-Holden, a University of Michigan researcher who has studied the town's lack of health resources, told the Guardian. "What the water crisis did was bring to light all the other issues."
"A waning federal commitment to public water infrastructure in recent decades has created a growing water crisis in our country, and our most vulnerable communities are taking the brunt of this disinvestment," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.
Ellison and Khanna's legislation "would reverse this trend and ensure affordable, clean water for future generations while creating good jobs," she added.