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Flint's federal emergency aid is ending, but the state will cover free bottled water, filters

Aug 3, 2016

Free bottled water, filters and cartridges aren’t going anywhere. 

That’s the message the state is trying to send Flint residents ahead of the looming deadline of August 14, when the federal emergency declaration for Flint ends.

“We have heard from many residents … that there’s a deep concern that the federal government and state are going to pack up and pull out of Flint after August 14,” State Police Captain Chris Kelenske said Wednesday. “I’m here to tell you that that assumption is completely false. I want to be extremely clear: August 14 is just a date on the calendar.”  

Bottled water at a distribution site in Flint earlier this year.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Under the emergency declaration, the feds have been footing 75% of the bill for the bottled water, filters, filter cartridges and home testing kits that are free at distribution sites in nearly all of the city’s wards and 30 churches and community centers.

After August 14, the state will step up and pick up the full tab, and even expand water distribution with a new site in the city’s 8th ward.

So how much will that cost? Probably in the range of $3.5 million a month, at least while the demand for bottled water remains strong.

So how much will that cost? Probably in the range of $3.5 million a month, at least while the demand for bottled water remains strong.

That’s how much it cost for all the bottled water and the other supplies for Flint back in May, from both the state and the federal government.

“If the federal declaration wasn’t in place, the state of Michigan would have paid more than $117,400 per day in May for water resources provided to Flint residents,” says Ron Leix of the state’s Joint Information Center in Flint.

“It’s hard to say what future costs may be – it all depends on the demand for bottled water and if residents use the filters. With the warmer weather, there may be a larger demand for water supplies. Colder weather may lessen the demand. It’s variable,” Leix says.

Despite experts urging filter use, residents still using 10,000 cases of bottled water a week 

The continued access to free bottled water is a big deal, because even though experts say it’s now safe to drink filtered water, many Flint residents still don’t trust that.

So the demand for bottled water this summer is holding fairly steady around 10,000 cases a week, according to state numbers.

That’s up from about 5,000 cases a week back in March – likely because of the hot weather – but it’s way lower than the nearly 25,000 cases that were going out each week for a period of time in January.

Meanwhile, the number of filter cartridges people are picking up in Flint is down slightly from back in May – a sign that people either are still relying mostly on bottled water, or just aren’t replacing the cartridges in their filters.

Or, more optimistically, it could be because the state has made an effort to go door-to-door delivering filters and cartridges to every household in Flint.

Still, Capt. Chris Kelenske says he looks to the daily reports he gets about filter cartridge numbers, to tell him when people are starting to trust their filters.

“Now, eventually, I hope the trend will be that the bottled water starts to decrease, and the cartridges increase,” he says. “Because that’ll tell me that we’re using the cartridges more. Because the replacement is based on how much water they’re pushing through there. It’s a lot more now, than it was before. Again, we’re looking at the science here, and they’re testing the water. So that’s kind of what I think people need to trust.”

Still, Kelenske says he gets why establishing that trust may take more time.

“Absolutely. And we understand that. Which is why we’re continuing moving forward in the direction we’re moving. Because the needs of the citizens are going to determine our response to this.”   

Meanwhile, officials from the EPA say they’ll also stay in Flint until the water is safe to drink.