The Flint Water Crisis: A Timeline

The recent events surrounding lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, have roots that go back more than four years. This timeline, drawn from various sources, pieces together those significant events.
The Flint Water Crisis: A Timeline
Photo by Michigan Municipal League

Nov. 29, 2011: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appoints Michael Brown the first emergency manager of four to help deal with a declared financial emergency in the City of Flint.

Dec. 20, 2012: State and city officials meet to discuss drinking water options for Flint. They discuss using the Flint River as a source, but decide to study two options: staying with Lake Huron water supplied by the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD), or switching to a new Lake Huron pipeline scheduled to be built by the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA).

April 16, 2013: Backed by a 7-1 vote from the Flint City Council, Ed Kurtz, the city’s emergency manager, signs an agreement to join KWA, saying future rates for DWSD water are too unreliable and KWA will be a cheaper alternative. KWA cannot supply Flint until the new pipeline is finished in about three years. DWSD issues Flint a notice of termination effective in one year. DWSD and Flint fail to come to an interim agreement.

June 26, 2013: City officials decide to use the Flint River as an interim water source until the KWA pipeline is complete. Kurtz hires an engineering company to plan the switch and figure out how to equip the water plant to treat Flint River water.

March 7, 2014: Flint’s newest emergency manager Darnell Earley turns down an offer from DWSD for the city to extend the purchase of its water as the expiration of the DWSD supply contract with Flint approaches.

April 9, 2014: State environmental regulators approve permits letting Flint switch to the Flint River for its water source until the KWA pipeline is complete in 2016.

April 25, 2014: With approval of permits from state regulators, Flint begins using the Flint River as an interim water source, ending an almost 50-year stretch of receiving Lake Huron water through DWSD.

June 1, 2014: Flint residents begin complaining about the smell, taste and color of the water. Many say it makes them sick.

July 2014: First six-month monitoring period for lead and copper in tap water begins.

Aug. 14, 2014: Flint water tests positive for E. coli. Boil-water advisories are issued in various areas and continue on and off until Sept. 9.

Jan. 2, 2015: Flint is found to be in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, with unacceptable levels of total trihalomethanes (TTHM), a byproduct of chlorination and disinfection. According to the EPA, elevated levels of TTHM can lead to an increased risk of cancer and other health problems.

Jan. 6, 2015: At a news conference, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling says the city’s water is safe to drink.

Jan. 11, 2015: Earley says the city will not return to DWSD water despite city council members’ desire to switch back, noting that to do so would increase costs by at least $12 million per year. He says water treatment consultants will be hired to fix current issues.

Feb. 25, 2015: A test reveals a lead content of 104 ppb in the water of Flint resident Lee Anne Walters’ home; 15 ppb is the EPA’s limit for lead in drinking water. The EPA inquires about treatment; the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) states Flint’s water treatment plant has an “optimized corrosion control program.” The first six-month period of testing shows tap water in 10 percent of homes at a lead content of 6 ppb or more, the highest levels in more than a decade.

April 24, 2015: DEQ staff indicates to EPA that no corrosion control treatment is in place, contradicting an earlier claim.

April 29, 2015: Flint financial emergency declared over, ending the oversight of state-appointed emergency managers. A transition advisory board takes over.

June 23, 2015: The Coalition for Clean Water files a lawsuit to force a return to DWSD water. A judge rejects the injunction.

Aug. 20, 2015: DEQ revises a city report and invalidates two water samples showing high lead levels, allowing the city to meet a federal standard for lead content.

Sept. 19, 2015: Virginia Tech researchers finish testing water samples from 300 Flint homes and find high lead levels across the city. One sample tests 13,200 ppb. Report concludes the corrosiveness of Flint River water is causing lead from pipes to leach into residents’ water.

Sept. 24, 2015: A study spearheaded by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of the Hurley Medical Center in Flint finds the cases of high lead levels in children has nearly doubled since the switch to Flint River.

Sept. 30, 2015: Gov. Snyder admits the switch to the Flint River was poorly planned: “Things were not fully understood.” He releases a plan to address the issue, including the distribution of thousands of water filters to Flint residents.

Oct. 8, 2015: Gov. Snyder announces a plan for Flint to reconnect to DWSD water at a cost of $12 million. The state and Mott Foundation will contribute $10 million. Flint will pay $2 million.

Oct. 16, 2015: City of Flint reconnects with DWSD. Officials say it will take about three weeks for Detroit water to fully replace Flint River water in the city’s system, but remain uncertain about when lead levels will return to normal.

Nov. 13, 2015: Four Flint families file a class-action lawsuit against state and city officials for personal injury and property damage as a result of the switch to Flint River water. Additional lawsuits follow.

December 2015: Flint begins adding additional orthophosphates to the water supply to build up the phosphate scale that was eroded in the pipes by Flint River water.

Dec. 15, 2015: Newly elected Flint mayor Karen Weaver declares a state of emergency in the city and says future funding will be needed for special education, mental health, juvenile justice and social services as a result of behavioral and cognitive impacts of high blood lead levels.

Dec. 29, 2015: The five-member Flint Water Advisory Task Force created by Gov. Snyder in October releases its preliminary report stating DEQ carries the ultimate blame for the water crisis because it failed to properly follow the federal Lead and Copper Rule. According to the report, DEQ instructed Flint water treatment staff that corrosion control measures wouldn’t be necessary for a year, when two rounds of six-month tests had been completed and evaluated. The report leads to the resignation of DEQ’s director, Dan Wyant, and communications director, Brad Wurfel.

Jan. 8, 2016: The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan announces it is opening an investigation into the situation. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office follows suit a week later.

Jan. 11, 2016: Gov. Snyder signs an executive order creating a new committee to work on long-term solutions to the Flint water situation and ongoing public health concerns affecting residents.

Jan. 16, 2016: President Obama approves a declaration of emergency and a request for additional federal aid in Flint.

Jan. 18, 2016: United Way of Genesee County estimates up to 112,000 children have been exposed to lead poisoning and kicks off a fundraising campaign to raise $100 million over 10 to 15 years for their medical treatment.

Photo: Michigan Municipal League


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