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Michigan will no longer provide free bottled water to Flint

Flint resident Nia Augustine carried bottled water to a vehicle at a water distribution center on Dort Highway on Friday.
Flint resident Nia Augustine carried bottled water to a vehicle at a water distribution center on Dort Highway on Friday.(Jake May/Flint Journal-MLive.com/Associated Press)

NEW YORK — Officials in Flint, Mich., are criticizing a state decision to stop providing free bottled water to the city.

Governor Rick Snyder announced Friday that the water distributions will stop, even though Flint is still recovering from a crisis that left residents with dangerous levels of lead in their tap water beginning in 2014.

But Michigan officials said lead levels in the water there have not exceeded federal limits for about two years, so the state was closing the four remaining distribution centers where residents have been picking up cases of free water since January 2016.

“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,” said Snyder, a Republican.

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Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, said she was informed of the decision only moments before it was made public.

“We did not cause the man-made water disaster, therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced,” she said in a statement.

Lines of cars formed outside distribution points Friday as residents rushed to load up on the last of the free bottles.

Joyce Wilson, 62, who lives in Flint, said she did not trust the water that flows to her taps — not for drinking, bathing, or even watering her garden, where she grows food. She has been visiting the free water distribution centers for two years and bringing cases to her older or ailing relatives, friends, and neighbors.

“This weekend the lines are so long, it’s unreal,” she said. “It’s like all of a sudden, panic has set in.”

Although state officials said Flint’s water supply met federal standards, the water can still pick up lead when it flows through the thousands of lead or galvanized steel lines that remain in the city.

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Flint is working with contractors to replace all of the affected lines by 2020. Just over 6,200 have been replaced so far, said Steve Branch, the acting city administrator. An estimated 12,000 could remain.

The governor’s statement said Flint residents could still obtain free water filters.

Michigan taxpayers have “provided more than $350 million to Flint, in addition to the $100 million from the federal government,” the statement said. “The funding is helping with water quality improvements, pipe replacement, health care, nutritional food distribution, educational resources, job training and creation, and more.”

Flint has struggled with its water crisis since 2014, when state-appointed officials began using the Flint River, rather than the more expensive Detroit water system, as a source for tap water that was not properly treated before it reached residents’ homes.

New York Times