Michigan Will No Longer Provide Free Bottled Water to Flint

Deon Sisco loading cases of bottled water into vehicles in Flint, Mich., on Friday. The governor said the state would discontinue providing the free bottles.

Michigan will stop providing free bottled water to the city of Flint, Gov. Rick Snyder said on Friday.

City officials criticized the decision, in part because Flint is still recovering from a crisis that left residents with dangerous levels of lead in their tap water beginning in 2014.

But Michigan officials said lead levels in the water there have not exceeded federal limits for about two years, so the state was closing the four remaining distribution centers where residents have been picking up cases of free water since January 2016.

“We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” Mr. Snyder, a Republican, said in a statement on Friday.

Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, said she was informed of the decision only moments before it was made public.

“We did not cause the man-made water disaster, therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced,” she said in a statement.

Lines of cars formed outside distribution points on Friday as residents rushed to load up on the last of the free bottles.

Joyce Wilson, 62, who lives in Flint, said she did not trust the water that flows to her taps — not for drinking, bathing or even watering her garden, where she grows food. She has been visiting the free water distribution centers for two years and bringing cases to her older or ailing relatives, friends and neighbors.

“This weekend the lines are so long, it’s unreal,” she said. “It’s like all of a sudden, panic has set in.”

Although state officials said Flint’s water supply met federal standards, the water can still pick up lead when it flows through the thousands of lead or galvanized steel lines that remain in the city.

Flint is working with contractors to replace all of the affected lines by 2020. Just over 6,200 have been replaced so far, said Steve Branch, the acting city administrator. An estimated 12,000 could remain.

The governor’s statement said Flint residents could still obtain free water filters.

Michigan taxpayers have “provided more than $350 million to Flint, in addition to the $100 million from the federal government,” the statement said. “The funding is helping with water quality improvements, pipe replacement, health care, nutritional food distribution, educational resources, job training and creation, and more.”

Flint has struggled with its water crisis since 2014, when state-appointed officials began using the Flint River, rather than the more expensive Detroit water system, as a source for tap water that was not properly treated before it reached residents’ homes.

One study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016 found that the percentage of Flint children with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled after the switch, which has also been linked to 12 fatal cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

The city switched back to the Detroit water system in 2015, and the crisis resulted in felony charges against emergency managers who had been appointed by Mr. Snyder to help run the city.

Flint was put under emergency management in 2011 because it was struggling financially, but Michigan’s treasurer, Nick Khouri, said this past week that he would sign a resolution to release the city from state oversight.

City officials remain concerned about access to safe water now that the distribution of free bottles has ended.

“There are still questions that remain,” Dr. Pamela Pugh, Flint’s chief public health adviser, said in a statement. “We have not received clear steps as to how the remaining lead in Flint schools will be remediated or how ongoing monitoring will continue for our most vulnerable populations.”

Ms. Wilson said that after years of watching people suffer in her hometown, she was disappointed with officials at both the state and local levels.

“I just have no trust in anything they say, because they make these claims and then shortly thereafter, it turns out that they weren’t telling the truth,” she said.

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