Flint, Michigan Has Been Charging Its Residents for Toxic Water

January 19th 2016

With President Barack Obama declaring a state of emergency over contaminated water in Flint, Michigan over the weekend, a months-long crisis has seemingly reached a new fever pitch.

According to residents there, the city has been consistently dolling out water bills throughout the crisis, charging them between $100 and $200 per month for water — the same water that produced samples the Environmental Protection Agency said met its qualifications for toxic waste.

flint-michigan-waterAP/Paul Sancya - apimages.com

Residents continue to be charged for water that many are too scared to drink, after corrosive water eroded the city's pipes, leaching lead and other contaminants into drinking water, according to a report by Mic.

Related: You Need To Know About Flint, Michigan's Water Problem

"We've been paying for it for so long," Flint resident Tyrone Wooten told Mic. "Sometimes it's like, 'Don't flush the toilets sometimes; we don't know how much that costs.'"

Flint residents have also been issued shutoff notices for unpaid water bills, even though they say that water is unsafe to drink. Last week, the city's finance director, Jody Lunquist, said that the city would begin issuing shutoff notices again after it had given a break to delinquent residents over the holidays, citing the municipal financial constraints associated with overdue accounts.

Related: This Is What the Water in Flint, Michigan Looks Like

Charging customers for contaminated water has upset both Flint residents and Michigan officials investigating the crisis. On Monday, state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who last week launched an investigation into potential law-breaking during the contamination process, said in a Twitter post that residents should not be held financially accountable for unsafe water.

"If you can't drink the water, you shouldn't be billed for it. That's nuts and must be fixed," the post reads.

A spokesperson for Shuette's office declined to comment further on the AG's comments on social media. Finance director Lundquist's office could not be reached for comment.

The problems started in 2013, when Flint switched its water source from Detroit to the Flint River to cut costs. But the river's water was much more corrosive, and it ate away at the city's vintage plumbing system, causing lead and other contaminants to leech into residents' tap water.

Related: Bernie Sanders Just Responded to the Water Crisis in Flint

Even after the city switched back to the Detroit water, the corrosive river water had caused irreparable damage to the old pipes, which continue to introduce contaminants into the city's water. Despite that, residents told Mic they were being charged for contaminated water.

A spokesperson for the city of Flint told ATTN: in an email that while officials are currently reviewing policies on service shut offs, the city was legally obligated to bill residents for water and sewer services. 

The shutoff notices announced last week were the second batch following a judge's ruling in August temporarily halted the practice. That ruling was in connection to a class action lawsuit by Flint water customers over too-high water and sewer rates predating the contamination crisis. Observers say the crisis has created substantial bills for an already cash-strapped city — one reason finance officials have been bullish about collecting unpaid water bills.

Flint River bridge //creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons - wikimedia.org

According to Siddhartha Roy, a spokesman for the Flint Water Study, the city already faces a $1.5 billion price tag in order to replace Flint's water pipes. "A majority of Flint's water infrastructure has been severely damaged," Roy told ATTN: in a phone call.

Roy added that the costs could be more substantial if the city does not regain the trust of its residents — a potential conundrum in the face of continued water bills and shutoff notices.

"I think a big part of how this crisis can be fixed is by [the city and the state] doing everything they can to regain the trust of the public."

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