Residents in Flint, Michigan, have been dealing with lead-contaminated water for years now—since 2014, to be exact. Many people have responded by refusing to pay their water bills.
Soon, however, those who ignore their bills will have their water turned off. Flint’s chief financial officer, David Sabuda, told the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday (February 15) that the city will begin issuing water shut-off notices in the spring. The move follows Governor Rick Snyder’s February 7 announcement that the state will stop subsidizing the cost of the city’s water by the end of the month.
While the city says water shut-offs aren’t directly linked to the governor’s announcement, the decision shapes how the city will handle future water payments. Per the Free Press:
Sabuda said there isn’t a direct link between the end of the state credits and the resumption of water shutoffs, except that the end of the credits makes it even more important for Flint to collect the water payments businesses and residents owe, while at the same time making it harder for many customers to make those payments.
The city used to threaten shut offs for lack of payment, but that practice ended last year when local and national media, including Slate and CNN, reported that the city was issuing notices to residents and businesses for lead-contaminated water. The Associated Press reports that Snyder originally committed to providing customer credits through March, but the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (MDEQ) January 24 announcement that water lead levels now meet federal limits changed that timeline.
Though the state cites the decrease in lead levels as the reason to end its funding, the water is still not safe right out of the tap. Per the MDEQ: “The state continues its recommendation that residents use filtered water for drinking and cooking for everyone in their household due to the chance for disruption to pipes as the city replaces lead service lines.”
Members of the state’s water advisory committee worry that the declaration is premature, reports MLive.
“We are making a huge mistake by claiming things are getting better and will continue to get better,” said Laura Sullivan, a Kettering University professor and Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee member. Sullivan worries that the state would be “10 steps further back in establishing trust with residents,” if lead levels spike again.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver told The AP that city officials will push the state to continue the assistance until the water is safe to drink. Ending the subsidies would save Michigan more than $2 million a month.