CHICAGO – Flint residents, an organization of pastors, and national advocacy groups--including the ACLU--are asking a federal court to order home water delivery for every household in the Michigan city served by Flint’s water system. Flint’s tap water remains unsafe and is likely to remain undrinkable for months due to persistent lead contamination. The groups are asking the court to direct the delivery of bottled water to people’s homes, as many Flint residents cannot obtain water for their daily needs due to transportation or other access issues.
“We have no choice but to take this action because, despite the government's promises and efforts thus far, large numbers of Flint residents still lack acceptable access to adequate supplies of clean, safe drinking water. Furthermore, despite the official apologies and vows to fix this crisis, our government officials still have a long way to go to ensure that clean water begins flowing to Flint homes as quickly as possible,” said ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg.
“After living with this crisis for as long as we have, morale in Flint is very low. It is tiring and draining to rely on bottled water day in and day out, and there is no end in sight. I’m not sure that people in Flint will ever have full confidence again that our water is safe to drink,” said Pastor Alfred Harris, pastor at the Saints of God Church in Flint, and president of the Concerned Pastors for Social Action. “At a minimum, and until a permanent fix is in place, we want Flint and state officials to provide sufficient bottled water to everyone in Flint who needs it, so that Concerned Pastors and other volunteer organizations are not spending our limited resources trying to fill the gaps in water services that still exist today.”
Court filings paint a grim picture of the daily travails of some Flint residents, who struggle to secure enough drinking water for their families due to difficulties in accessing bottled water at distribution centers, including:
- Transportation to the water distribution centers is challenging for many. Nearly 18 percent of Flint residents do not have access to cars, and the unreliable bus system makes public transportation difficult. Some residents are physically unable to carry cases of water from distribution centers to buses and then back to their homes.
- Each family may take home one case of bottled water per day, which means frequent trips are required to have enough water for drinking, cooking, and bathing needs.
- Due to the difficulties of obtaining enough water for their families, some Flint residents spend hundreds of dollars buying bottled water, on top of their monthly water bills. This cost constitutes a significant portion of these families’ monthly income.
- Elderly or homebound residents rely on volunteer organizations to provide water, as neither the city nor state are coordinating reliable delivery services for some people with special needs.
- Some members of Flint’s immigrant community are deterred from picking up water at the distribution centers by the presence of the National Guard and law-enforcement at the sites.
In addition to problems securing bottled water, some families and individuals cannot install and maintain faucet filters intended to remove lead in their homes. Filters distributed by the city and state do not fit on all residents’ faucets, and installation instructions have been difficult to understand. Some filters have clogged, cracked or broken after just one or two weeks. The consequences are significant, as faucet filters may become ineffective at removing lead if not installed or maintained properly.
“Despite public pressure and media attention, there are Flint residents who cannot reliably access safe drinking water. We are asking the court to order the City of Flint and Michigan state officials to provide every household with bottled water delivery, to ensure all Flint residents have safe water for the duration of this crisis,” said Dimple Chaudhary, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“I spend my days and weekends distributing information, delivering bottled water and filters, and coordinating bottled water donations—things that the government should be doing instead of me,” said Melissa Mays, co-founder of the organization Water You Fighting For and a plaintiff in the case. “At some point, I’m going to have to get back to work to help support my family. But as it is now, I get requests for help nearly every day, mostly from people who have no car, lack access to transportation, and have tried without success to get bottled water or filters delivered from the government. Most of these people are in a panic because they have run out or are close to running out of water and they don’t know what else to do.”
Concerned Pastors for Social Action, Flint resident Melissa Mays, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the ACLU of Michigan filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the Eastern District of Michigan. This motion was filed as part of the lawsuit filed on January 27 alleging violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and seeking federal court intervention to secure safe drinking water for the people of Flint.
The City of Flint and state officials will be required to respond to plaintiffs’ request to the court in April. In the meantime, the city and state have filed motions to dismiss the Safe Drinking Water Act lawsuit. The court has not yet ruled on the motions to dismiss.