Last week, U.S. District Judge David Lawson ordered the state to deliver four cases of bottled water weekly to each resident who needs it in the wake of the ongoing crisis that has left the city with lead-contaminated water since 2014. Attorneys for the state filed a motion Thursday to stay the order while they appeal the decision in a lawsuit brought by several advocacy groups.
“The herculean effort required by the court order would be on the magnitude of a large-scale military operation,” Anna Heaton, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder (R), wrote in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post. “The resources to accomplish this would only be available through the activation of the National Guard or the hiring of several logistics companies.”
The state’s motion says it would cost at least $10.5 million monthly to deliver the estimated 400,000 cases of water each week, and warns that using Flint relief money for water delivery could defund other efforts like nutritional assistance programs for kids.
Lawson’s order “increases the scope of the State’s emergency response to an unnecessary and insurmountable degree,” according to the state’s filing.
“It’s sad that the State of Michigan continues to disenfranchise the community of Flint,” Pastor Allen Overton with the Concerned Pastors for Social Action said in a statement. The group is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“What happened to Governor Snyder’s pledge that he would work to fix Flint’s drinking water crisis? This action today inflicts more harm on a city that’s already hurting,” Overton added.
The state argues that 90 percent of houses and most apartments have water filters installed, bottled water is available at pickup locations throughout the city and responders already have a system to deliver water to residents who can’t pick it up on their own.
The state does not have to deliver water to households if they verify that they have working water filters installed, Lawson wrote. The problem is that providing filters hasn’t guaranteed that they are installed or used correctly, he said.
Lawson also noted testimony from residents who hadn’t been able to receive water despite state efforts.
“[The plaintiffs’] evidence raises serious questions as to the efficacy of the emergency response,” he wrote. “Indeed, the endeavor of hunting for water has become a dominant activity in some Flint residents’ daily lives.”
The brief cited the drawback of adding millions of plastic bottles to Flint’s trash and recycling, which Heaton called a “potential public health risk.”
They also said logistical issues would be a major hurdle: It might be impossible to find a warehouse big enough to store the necessary water and they’d have to obtain more than 100 new trucks, the motion states.
In 2014, after Flint left Detroit’s water system and started drawing water from the Flint River, residents began complaining about their tap water’s smell, taste and appearance, and claimed it was causing health issues. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality initially denied that there were any issues with the water.
The city, under the state’s direction, had failed to treat the water with chemicals that prevent corrosion, allowing lead that lines pipes to leach into the water. Any amount of lead exposure is a health risk, particularly for young children, and can stunt their brain development.
State and federal regulators eventually confirmed that water samples at Flint homes had dangerous levels of lead and acknowledged a pediatrician’s findings that the number of children in the city with elevated lead levels in their blood had increased dramatically. The city switched back to the Detroit water system, which draws from Lake Huron, last fall.
In the aftermath, Snyder and Obama both declared emergencies in Flint at the beginning of this year, and the state began recovery efforts. The state offered free water filters to residents and has begun replacing lead service lines. In June, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that properly filtered water in the city was safe to drink.
Both Snyder and the the federal government have been widely condemned for their handling of the water crisis, with some critics calling the denial of an essential service to the city’s predominantly black residents, many who are poor, a case of environmental racism.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit, criticized Michigan for again denying help to residents.
“Seeking to delay the federal court order that the State immediately fix Flint’s water crisis is an obvious insult to the people of Flint, whose tap water has been contaminated with lead for more than two years,” NRDC Midwest Director Henry Henderson said in a statement.