Government must be held responsible for Flint crisis and its solutions

All around the country, we are watching the greatest environmental crisis in decades unfold. We are waiting for the governments—local, state and national—to expedite the remedies.

In April 2014, city officials in Flint, Michigan, officially changed the city’s water source from the much-admired Detroit water system to the highly polluted Flint River to cut costs. This caused immediate problems including harmful water quality and pipe damage, according to a Jan. 21 New York Times article.

In October 2015, the city switched back to the Detroit system, but its pipes had already been so corroded by the terrible river water quality that they contaminated even fresh, safe water with lead, according to the Jan. 21 article.

The crisis in Flint has been declared a state emergency by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and a federal emergency by President Obama. Public figures and companies have donated money and bottled water, but the contaminated water caused such extreme damage to the infrastructure of Flint that more than remedial aid is needed. 

The responsibility of finding and funding a solution to the Flint water crisis falls to the city, state and potentially the federal government. The government agencies responsible have known of the contamination issues for nearly two years and the fact it has taken this long to take action is horrifying. Even now, the work toward solving the crisis seems slow—the old, contaminated pipes have yet to be replaced, according to a Jan. 26 NBC report.

Snyder said distributing clean water and filters is the priority before examining the pipes. Distributing bottled water is important, but residents need a more permanent solution quickly. 

Environmental and civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit demanding the prompt replacement of pipes in Flint, noting that residents “can’t live off bottled water,” according to a Jan. 27 CBS article. 

It has become apparent that a permanent solution to the crisis is needed and there are several possibilities to consider.

First, the government could repair or replace the pipes in Flint. Although expensive and time-consuming, this would put Flint on the road to being a functioning city with a clean water supply again.

Another option would be to evacuate Flint entirely. In the case of the Love Canal water crisis in 1978, which was caused by the poor disposal of hazardous waste, the families living in the area were evacuated or relocated to other cities.

This remedy would not be easy. Flint has a population of 100,000 with 40 percent of residents living below the poverty line—much larger than the Love Canal neighborhood near Niagara Falls, New York. It might not be realistic to evacuate a population of that size, but the government should consider offering a package to aid those people who might be interested in leaving. 

What happened in Flint is an emergency and a tragedy. It should be solved regardless of the cost. Flint residents are suffering because their government put them in this deadly situation and left them helpless. Such a gross error and abuse of power should not go unnoticed, but the main priority should be getting the people of Flint safe access to this vital human resource.