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Flint water customers start paying more for water this month

downtown Flint street
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio
Downtown Flint.

Starting today, people in Flint will be paying more for their tap water.     

That’s because it’s no longer being subsidized by the state. The move comes as many Flint residents fear and complain that their tap water is still not safe to drink.

For nearly a year now, Michigan has been paying 65% of the total on Flint water bills.      

The credits were intended to pay for water that didn’t meet federal quality standards dating back to 2014, when the city’s drinking water source was switched to the Flint River. Improperly treated river water damaged city pipes, which leeched lead into Flint’s drinking water.

... the state has spent $41 million on the credits, but that's now over because state officials say lead levels in the city's tap water are now "comparable" with other communities.

In all, the state has spent $41 million on the credits, but that’s now over because state officials say lead levels in the city’s tap water are now “comparable” with other communities.

Rich Baird, a senior adviser to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, explained what that meant at a recent meeting of the governor’s Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee.

“With the passage of time, you moved from what was 'the water’s still not good, but the filter’s work' message -- to a message now which is 'the water is good…most of the time you could drink it right out of the tap without fear,'” Baird told the panel overseeing the state’s response to the Flint water crisis.   

At the height of the crisis, lead levels in the tap water in some homes tested in the hundreds of parts per billion. The federal action level for lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion.  

The state extended the credits late last year, after tests showed lead levels dipping to 12 parts per billion. The state says their tests show it’s now at 8 parts per billion.

The state still encourages Flint residents to use filters in parts of town where service lines are being replaced. The process of removing the aging lead and galvanized pipes can shake loose lead particles.  Replacing the estimated 20,000 service lines is a process that will take years.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver argues that it’s too soon to end the subsidy.

She met with the governor last month and failed to convince him to extend the credits. 

"I went between anger and disappointment."

“I went between anger and disappointment. I don’t know which feeling was the heaviest for me,” Weaver told reporters last month.

Flint has one of the nation’s highest water rates.        

And only about half of Flint residential customers are current on their water bills. As bills go back up that number is expected to drop, and that means Flint officials may soon have to shut off water service to some homes.

Flint resident Lisia Williams worries about people making difficult choices.

“We have seniors that are already making decisions between buying medication or paying their water bill ... water they can not drink,” says Williams.

Flint residents do still have access to bottled water and filters that are being handed out daily at distribution sites around the city.

But due to lawsuits and other issues, how long that will continue is uncertain.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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