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U.S. Senate approves Flint water crisis funding

Dec 10, 2016

Congress has approved a wide-ranging bill to authorize water projects across the country, including $170 million to address lead in Flint's drinking water. 

The U.S. Senate voted early this morning, 78 to 21, to approve the $10 billion bill.

The vote sends the bill to President Barack Obama.

A provision to include $558 million for California drought relief threatened to scuttle the bill for a time.

Some Democrats complained the provision was a giveaway to that state’s farmers and businesses.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was one of the bill's key authors, but urged senators to vote no because of the last-minute provision that Boxer said puts the interests of big farms over the fishing industry.

Fellow California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the bill will increase water deliveries to farms and businesses devastated by the years-long drought.

The early morning vote caps a year-long fight by Michigan’s congressional delegation to get federal help to deal with Flint’s water crisis.

“This is a very long, hard-fought victory,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said after the vote.

Here’s a breakdown of the aid coming to Flint:

  • $100 million for the Safe Water Drinking Act State Revolving Loan Fund, which Flint could use to replace lead service lines and other water infrastructure improvement needs.
  • $50 million for expanded health care, including the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, Healthy Start Program and money to create a lead exposure registry.
  • $20 million in loans available through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which would be available to Flint and other communities for water infrastructure improvement projects to address lead and other water contamination issues.

The city of Flint has received some help from the state government, but Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has been lobbying for more than a year for federal help.

“Although we have waited far longer for this help than expected,” Weaver said in a written statement after the Senate vote, “we are grateful to the Senate and the House for providing the assistance that will help Flint residents deal with this unprecedented health crisis and gain a brighter future.”

Flint’s tap water became contaminated with lead after the city’s drinking water source was switched to the Flint River. The water was not properly treated, damaging aging city pipes. The pipes leeched lead into Flint’s drinking water.

Test results released this month by the state and independent researchers show lead levels improving. But officials say Flint residents should still only drink their tap water if it's filtered.

In addition to money, the bill also contains a provision that requires the EPA to warn the public within 24 hours of high lead levels in drinking water if a state fails to do so.