WUOMFM

Flint only has one choice for its water supply

Oct 28, 2017

This week's boil-water disaster in Oakland County may not instill much confidence in Flint City Council members.

Credit Daniel Howes / Detroit News

They’re being pushed to green-light a deal with the Great Lakes Water Authority. But they should consider the alternatives.

There aren’t any.

Not for a place marinated in the politics of water, bureaucratic incompetence at all levels of government, and the high cost of bad decision-making.

Mayor Karen Weaver is accusing City Council of stalling a needed vote on a 30-year deal with the Great Lakes authority. It would tie the city’s water supply to metro Detroit for three decades – and offset debt payments of nearly a half-million dollars a month to the nearby Karegnondi Water Authority.

$1.7 million in taxpayer money has effectively been wasted since July – because Council members refuse to make a decision.

So the mayor is pressing the matter in federal court. She accuses Council of putting the public’s health at risk and – get this – setting the table for a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing.

Fat chance.

Now, it’s perfectly understandable that Flint’s Council would be suspicious of any long-term deal backed by, you guessed it, state officials. Those are many of the same officials whose incompetent indifference precipitated the water crisis that became a national embarrassment.

This has “mistrust” written all over it. And no one should understand that more clearly than the mayor. But she has a job to do, and that includes making sure taxpayers get the most bang for their buck. Right now, they aren’t.

So she’s throwing around the “B” word, predicting receivership, and untold financial calamity in a city that has already survived four emergency managers. It’s the only leverage she has, short of a federal court ordering Council to approve the deal with the Great Lakes Water Authority.

The chances of Gov. Rick Snyder approving a bankruptcy for the state’s No. 2 minority-majority city are next to nil. Not in the last year of his final term. Not as he’s trying to rescue a legacy tarnished most by the lead contamination of Flint’s water.

The words “no way” come to mind.

As much as Flint’s books and contracts might benefit from the purification that only bankruptcy can deliver, it’s probably safe to say that it ain’t gonna happen.

And that’s probably a major reason Flint’s council members are dithering – because they can. Because the politics of driving a hard bargain benefit them. Because residents are understandably wary of anything that appears to be foisted on them by Lansing.

There’s only one problem: what other option does Flint have? Invest heavily in renovating its moribund water treatment plant? So it can then treat its own water from Karegnondi? Uh, no. Or stick with Great Lakes and its legacy ties to the Detroit water that coursed through Flint pipes for 50 years – until a string of bad decisions delivered lead contamination?

The question answers itself. Flint needs stable, predictable, quality water. Sticking with Great Lakes is its best option.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.