Ever since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan became headline news across the nation, the residents of the plagued city have received an outpouring of support from celebrities, politicians and regular, everyday people. Despite all the goodwill that has been shown, however, questions remain as to how the public water system in a place with a population of 100,000 could have become so dangerously inept. A criminal investigation involving the FBI is currently under way, and with each passing day, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is becoming the most hated man in the state.
According to The Detroit News and local television news outlet WDIV, things are about to get a whole lot worse for Snyder. That’s because new emails dug up by the newspaper suggest that the governor’s office looked into the possibility of distributing water filters to Flint residents almost a year ago today — and several months before the local and national media latched onto the story.
Per The Detroit News, Brad Wurfel, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, wrote the following to “top Snyder aides Rich Baird and Harvey Hollins, current chief of staff Jarrod Agen and department Director Dan Wyant.” The email was dated March 5, 2015.
“If this idea begins to get legs, I’d suggest testing some different models on the local water at the customer level to see if they work… I’d also suggest the idea be focused on tap-mounted models to promote clean, appealing drinking water… While the state has provided residents in some communities with bottled water in the past, it always has to do with their water somehow being contaminated — as in, some kind of chemical plume that impaired drinking water sources… This would be the first time the state took steps to deal with what is an aesthetic issue on a system where the water is meeting state drinking water standards.”
For perspective, the first tendrils of the story didn’t pop up until seven months later in October — including here at Uproxx.
Other emails uncovered by The Detroit News revealed similar discussions with a private company regarding options for water treatment. However, no concrete or immediate actions were taken at the time to address the already-dire situation.
Chief of Staff Agen said shipment delays were partially to blame, as well as a supposed lack of urgency. “Unfortunately, there was not the level of urgency necessary because this was all during a time when DEQ was advocating that the water was safe to drink,” he told The Detroit News on Thursday.
Meanwhile, WDIV reports Snyder called upon Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “for the opportunity to testify to explain how the local, state and federal governments combined to fail the people of Flint.” In addition, Snyder has also promised new recommendations for improvement at local, state and federal levels to prevent similar incidents in the future.
“The people of Flint have suffered because they were failed by all levels of government, and so it is understandable that there are questions at all levels of government… In Michigan we are learning a great deal from this crisis and I am hopeful the federal government also will use this as an opportunity to examine health and safety protections in place, assess infrastructure needs, and avoid this type of crisis in the future.”
Snyder didn’t respond directly to The Detroit News’ revelation that his administration had known about the situation in Flint for some time. Nor did he remark on the fact that early measures had been adopted long before the first filters were quietly and quickly distributed in September.