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1st February 2016

The community of Flint, Michigan is in crisis. Last year, the city’s emergency manager disconnected Flint from the reliable Detroit water system and connected it to the polluted Flint River. As a result, thousands of children have been exposed to lead, which can cause permanent damage to developing brains and bodies, and hundreds of people have gotten sick from bacteria in the water, with 10 recently dying from Legionnaire’s disease.

Over the past two weeks, our team has been reaching out to your fellow Story of Stuff Community members in Flint and we’ve talked to activists, researchers and community leaders on the ground. What is clear from those conversations is that the people of Flint are in dire need of immediate action from Michigan’s elected leaders: emergency funds to monitor and treat their medical needs, and $1.5 billion to make their water pipes safe to drink from again.

Tell Michigan Governor Snyder: All people deserve clean, safe water to drink. Make more emergency funds available to address the water crisis in Flint immediately!

Over forty percent of Flint’s residents are low-income, and the majority are people of color. Decades ago a booming auto industry brought jobs to the region, and people followed. But when economic conditions changed, and many manufacturing jobs moved overseas, the community was left high and dry with high unemployment and an aging infrastructure.

Because of Flint’s economic struggles, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder took control of the city away from the democratically elected mayor and gave it to an appointed emergency manager. The emergency manager claims that he disconnected Flint from the Detroit water system and connected it to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure. Governor Snyder's appointee then failed to treat the water properly as required by the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, chemicals that were added to kill bacteria damaged pipes in the oldest homes in Flint, polluting the water with lead.

It took independent research from a team of professors at Virginia Tech to prove there was lead in the water, and months of protesting by Flint residents before the government would admit there was a problem. By then, thousands of children’s health had been affected.

Tell Michigan Governor Snyder: Grant the request of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to make more of Michigan’s $600 million emergency fund available to address this water crisis.
While the people of Flint are understandably focused on the immediate crisis unfolding in their city, almost everyone we talked to placed this situation in the context of a larger crisis. Most people in the United States take clean water for granted. How, it's fair to ask, could the problems in Flint been allowed to go on for so long? But the truth is what happened in Flint is only one chapter in a larger story of a public water system in crisis.

The United Nations has declared clean water to be a human right, but the U.S. is one of several countries that still fails to recognize this basic right to water. In fact, investment in public water infrastructure has decreased significantly over the past couple of decades in the United States.

Make no mistake, this isn’t just a matter of neglect. As our friends at Corporate Accountability International (CAI) have pointed out, water privatizers have taken advantage of the economic trials of cities and the failure of the federal government to adequately fund public water systems to aggressively push for private control of public water. And bottled water companies have spent millions trying to convince the public that tap water is dangerous and that the answer is their wasteful, expensive product. Ironically, companies like Nestle are more often than not bottling municipal tap water-bought for pennies on the dollar- and reselling it back to us.

What if instead of selling off public infrastructure to private companies, we made significant new public investments in America’s water systems? According to CAI’s Public Water Works campaign, “providing the needed funding for public water infrastructure over the next five years would create close to 1.9 million jobs and generate an additional $265.6 billion in economic activity.”

And what if instead of shutting off water on low-income citizens, we levied a fee on corporations like Nestle that profit off our public water systems to help pay for maintenance of crucial city water services? In the city of Chicago, for instance, a tax on bottled water sales is used to generate millions in revenue for public water projects. Imagine what even a penny per bottle could raise on the estimated $13 billion in annual bottled water sales in the U.S.

Over the coming months, we’ll be looking at opportunities to win new investments in public water infrastructure, at the municipal, state and federal level. We hope to work with partners at the federal level to increase funding for public water. And we plan to support local communities coming up with innovative solutions of their own. In the meantime, let’s all do what we can to support the people of Flint.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has pointed out that while Governor Snyder has offered the citizens of Flint $28 million to assist with their current needs, it falls far short of the $600 million that Michigan has available for emergencies. Since the Governor’s policies created the current crisis, Mayor Weaver is demanding that he do all he can to address the problem, including providing a higher percentage of needed aid.

Join us today in supporting Mayor Karen Weaver’s plea for Michigan to prioritize the human right to water.
Thank you for all you do!
Emma Cape, on behalf of The Story of Stuff team