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Michigan must deliver bottled water to Flint residents, judge rules

Demonstrators protest over the Flint, Mich., contaminated-water crisis in March. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

A federal judge in Michigan has ordered state officials to offer bottled-water delivery to Flint residents who can’t easily pick up their own from distribution sites in the city.

“A safe water supply has always been critical to civilization,” U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson wrote Thursday in his decision. “The Flint water crisis has in effect turned back the clock to a time when people traveled to central water sources to fill their buckets and carry the water home.”

It has been more than a year since state officials acknowledged that the city’s water was tainted with dangerous levels of lead, and more than two years since residents began complaining about their water’s smell and appearance in the wake of a decision by a state-appointed emergency manager to switch the supply source to the Flint River to save money. Even now, residents cannot trust what flows from their taps.

‘If I could afford to leave, I would.’ In Flint, a water crisis with no end in sight.

Advocacy groups that had been a part of the federal lawsuit praised the ruling, saying it marked a victory for residents who face the exhausting, ongoing task of picking up bottled water each week to bathe their children, cook their food and brush their teeth.

“The court correctly recognized that the government created this crisis, and it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that all people in Flint have access to safe drinking water,” Dimple Chaudhary, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

“It is an important, but rare victory for the people of Flint, who have suffered one setback after the next since poison started flowing out their faucets more than two years ago,” Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said in a statement.

In addition to the door-to-door delivery, Lawson ordered public officials to “provide Flint residents with clear and current information about lead contamination in the drinking water” that underscores the potential risks and the need to use and maintain properly installed filters. He said the notices and instructions must be distributed in numerous languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Hmong. He is requiring the state to file a status report on its efforts by Dec. 16.

Michigan has been picking up the full tab for the distribution of bottled water and filters since the federal government’s emergency aid to Flint ended earlier this summer.