In Flint, Mayor Works On Rebuilding Pipes — And Trust In The City

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Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says she is happy with some of the progress made in the city, but it needs more funding to continue replacing water pipes.

It's been nearly a year since Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency in Flint, Mich.

Before she became mayor, the city switched its water supply to the Flint River in a cost-cutting measure. The water wasn't properly treated, which caused corrosion in old pipes — leaching lead and other toxins into the city's tap water. People were afraid to drink or even bathe in the water.

Since then, a lot has happened.

Charges were brought against several Michigan state officials and one Flint city employee for their roles in the water crisis. Researchers say while the tap water is better than it was, people should still use filters on their faucets. The city has replaced hundreds of contaminated lead pipes, but that is not to say the problem is solved.

On Thursday, the U.S. House passed measures directing $170 million in aid for Flint. The bills will now move on to the Senate. Weaver spoke with All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro about the obstacles to ending the water crisis.


Interview Highlights

On the timeline of replacing 29,000 water lines

The answer to that depends on the money, and it's how quickly and how much money we can get to address this issue. Right now we have had in total $27 million and it will get us about 5,000 new lines that have been replaced. Our goal has been to get about 1,000 done before the end of the year. And we're close to having about 600 of them done right now.

On the water the community is using

People have to use the filters and we have to use bottled water. And that's the issue. You know the filters only work in the kitchen — they're not in the bathrooms, so that's why this is still a crisis in the city of Flint. ... We're almost three years into being on bottled and filtered water. So, we need the money, and the more money that comes, the more money that we get, will determine the quickness with which we can do this.

On the progress during the past year

I'm still optimistic. I'm happy for some of the progress we've made. But we know we deserve to have more money and I'm hoping that there's going to be a vote in the next week or so saying that Flint is going to get some more money for infrastructure because Flint still deserves that. ... We've had to do a public information campaign on using these filters and the importance of them.

On rebuilding trust

Rebuilding trust is harder than rebuilding infrastructure. I've been very adamant about letting people know what's going on every step of the way, letting them know it it's good news or bad news. ... Our goal is to be able to drink water right from the tap. We want tap drinkable water. The scientists have told us yes [the filters] are safe, but there's a lot to maintaining them for some people. I've told people you have to do what makes you feel safe.

On Flint's potential

We've got great potential and even in this crisis one of the things we've been able to do is hire our own people. And that's been great as far as the water distribution. ... Putting people to work in their own city. We've had some conversations with some businesses that are looking to move to Flint. That will be another victory for us because people will see that Flint is worth the investment.

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