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Flint Raided Money From Water Fund Before Lead Crisis

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Years before Flint, Michigan's lead crisis, city officials were taking from the city's water fund to pay for unrelated city spending, one state review reports, even as the water fund was in a deficit.

A state review team examined Flint's financial condition in November 2011 and found city debt had risen from $1.5 million in 2007 to $25.7 million in 2011 due to five years of failed budgeting and uncontrolled spending by the city council and mayor, Michigan Capitol Confidential reports.

Despite growing imbalances in the water department, Flint officials took about $10 million from water services populations to fund general city operations from 2009 to 2011, the state review shows. The water fund raid contributed to a growing deficit in the city water fund, which grew from $5.8 million in 2010 to $9 million in 2011.

The state review reported the repossession of funds by the city could cause the water department to “lack sufficient cash to permit the performance of the statutory tasks assigned to them, to provide preventative maintenance or to plan for future replacement of equipment.”

Mark Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech credited with uncovering the Flint water crisis, attributes this projected inability to perform due to funding as the cause of excessive lead contamination in Flint’s water supply.

“The simple story, is that the lead poisonings arose from the [Michigan Department of Environmental Quality] failure to implement corrosion control as the law requires,” Edwards told Michigan Capitol Confidential. “That is not a decision made by a governor, a mayor, or an emergency manager. The more complicated story, which certainly factors into the climate that allowed this problem to occur and continue as long as it did, is whether or not water is a basic right.”

Though Edwards reported there was “inevitably mismanagement” of the Flint water funds, he told Michigan Capitol Confidential he believes water is a basic human right and that it should be provided.

Flint’s water crisis gained public attention in 2015 after Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Children’s Hospital performed a study that indicated lead levels in Flint drinking water had increased to a toxic degree since switching the town’s drinking supply to the Flint River a year prior, MLive reports.

A federal bill providing $220 million in Federal Aid for lead contamination in Flint cleared the Senate on Sept. 15, according to The New York Times. However, Hanna-Attisha has encouraged Americans to continue to pay attention as the bill begins its battle in the house.

"This is all about continuity of care. People need to come on a long term basis." Hanna-Attisha reported to MLive.

"When people are going to remember Flint in 10, 20 years … they may remember that we were a city with a contaminated water supply," she said. "What I hope they remember in 10, 20 years is this disaster happened in Flint, but [the city] came together as a community and [the residents] were creative and innovative and proactive and look how much brighter their tomorrow, their future is."

Some House Republicans -- including Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- have supported the bill, The New York Times reports, but its future still remains unclear.

Sources: Michigan Capitol Confidential, MLive, The New York Times / Photo credit: Jake May/MLive

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