Senate Finally Approves Aid For Flint, MI – But There’s A Catch

The Senate has finally approved an aid package that would help replace the lead-leaching pipes in Flint, Michigan at the expense of endangered species protection in California.

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Credit – Daniel Mennerich/Flickr/CC

For two years, residents of Flint, Michigan have been forced to rely on bottled water for their daily needs as aging infrastructure was found to be poisoning the local water supply. In the time since, Michigan’s state government has consistently delayed and hampered efforts to replace the town’s corroded pipes that leached unsafe levels of lead into the water. Despite their delays in restoring safe drinking water to Flint, Michigan’s government had no problem giving Nestle, the world’s largest food company, permission to triple the amount of groundwater it pumps from its bottled water plant, just 120 miles from Flint.

This past Saturday, the US Senate finally acted to resolve the Flint Crisis by passing a wide-ranging $11 billion bill that funds water and infrastructure projects throughout the nation, including the removal of Flint’s corroded pipes. The bill, known as the Water Resources Development Act, would allot $170 million to address the crisis in Flint if the measure is approved and signed by President Obama. The provision, according to Michigan lawmakers and activists, is considered long overdue. However, the much-needed relief for Flint comes at a price.

At the last minute, a provision was tucked into the bill that would allocate $558 million to send more water to farmers in California by easing restrictions on the constructions of new dams and eliminating certain fish species from waterways. The provision comes amid California’s worst drought in over a century, with NASA scientists predicting it could run out of water entirely any month now. However, mismanagement shoulders a significant part of the blame for the state’s rapidly dissipating water supply with industrial scale farmers and wealthy landowners using the water for lawns and crops that could not normally grow in arid parts of the state. Yet, these very people will be the ones to benefit from this provision, while native endangered species and the state’s already-fragile forests will suffer. The provision is also set to devastate California families who fish for a living.

Pipes in Flint, MI Credit: Good Housekeeping

Pipes in Flint, MI
Credit: Good Housekeeping

This provision came as a shock to retiring Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), one of the bill’s primary authors. Even though Boxer worked on the bill for years, she ultimately found herself urging her colleagues to vote against the bill because it favors “big agribusiness” over endangered species protections for salmon and other species. “It breaks my heart,” lamented Boxer during a speech on the Senate floor last Friday. “Here I am, standing up, making a big fuss over my own bill, saying vote no. It’s really painful for me to have to filibuster my own bill.” Boxer’s sentiments were echoed by environmental activists, who shared mixed feelings over the bill’s passage. Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Common Dreams that “We should not have to trade delinquent Congressional action in Michigan for the erosion of endangered species protection and a threat to fishing jobs in California, but that is the result of the partisan games at play in this bill.” Though residents in Flint may rest easier after the bill’s passage, America’s water problems are far from over.

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