By Paul Egan
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality sued the City of Flint today over the City Council's foot-dragging in approving Detroit's Great Lakes Water Authority as its long-term drinking water source.
The city has been buying water from the GLWA by extending contracts for several months at a time. The mayor wants to strike a 30-year agreement.
The lawsuit is a striking turnabout for the DEQ, the agency that investigations have shown was largely to blame for the city's disastrous switch away from Detroit water to the Flint River as a temporary drinking source in April 2014.
The switch to the more corrosive river water without the DEQ requiring the addition of corrosion control chemicals resulted in lead leaching into the drinking water and a spike in lead levels in the blood of Flint children. The switch is also suspected in outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease linked to 12 Flint-area deaths.
But today, the DEQ sued the city in federal court in Detroit, alleging "the City Council's failure to act will cause an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health in Flint."
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has negotiated a long-term agreement to keep the city on GLWA water, which Flint has been using again since October 2015, the suit alleges.
"Continued use of that reliable source is necessary to ensure the protection of public health in Flint," the suit alleges.
"Despite proposing no other reasonable alternative, the Flint City Council has refused to approve the agreement negotiated by the mayor."
The DEQ wants the court to "declare that the City Council's inaction will result in a violation of applicable law and that Flint must enter into the agreement."
Flint City Councilman Eric Mays said the federal judge should give the City Council 30 days to call officials from the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder and others to testify about the deal and allow the City Council to tweak it.
Mays said he wants to change the deal to make sure Flint doesn't lose its investment in the Karegnondi Water Authority -- a new pipeline to Lake Huron that was instrumental in Flint switching away from Detroit water while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.
The state caused the water crisis by taking control of Flint drinking water and is now trying to do so again, in a way that will also do damage to the city, Mays said. "It's kind of ironic," he said.
DEQ Director Heidi Grether had given the City Council a Tuesday deadline to approve the deal in a June 15 letter.
"The City is currently paying $14.1 million per year to obtain water from the GLWA through a 72-inch line that was previously transferred to Genesee County," Grether said in the letter.
"Due to its decision to transfer the line, Flint will lose use of the 72-inch line on Oct. 1, 2017, absent approval of the mayor's recommendation," she said. "No other alternate pipeline currently exists to supply GLWA water to Flint."
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