Gov. Snyder lied: Flint water switch was not about saving money, records suggest

Photo by Steve Neavling.
Photo by Steve Neavling. 

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker 

The Flint water crisis that led to thousands of people being poisoned began because state officials maintained it would save the cash-strapped city money by disconnecting from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and using a different source.

But it turns out, DWSD offered the state-controlled city a deal that would have saved Flint more money by staying with Detroit.

An e-mail obtained by Motor City Muckraker shows the deal would have saved the city $800 million over 30 years, which was 20% more inexpensive than switching to the Karegnondi Water Authority.

A high-ranking DWSD official told us today that Detroit offered a 50% reduction over what Flint had been paying Detroit. In fact, documents show that DWSD made at least six proposals to Flint, saying “the KWA pipeline can only be attributed to a ‘political’ objective that has nothing to do with the delivery – or the price – of water.”

Gov. Rick Snyder
Gov. Rick Snyder

The offer by DWSD raises serious questions about whether Gov. Rick Snyder was lying when he insisted the water switch was motivated by saving money for Flint, which was under the control of a state emergency manager.

“When compared over the 30 year horizon the DWSD proposal saves $800 million dollars or said differently – saves 20% over the KWA proposal,” then-DWSD Director Sue McCormick said in the e-mail dated April 15, 2013.

The e-mail was first obtained by the Bill Johnson Group, a Detroit-based media consulting firm, and confirmed today by DWSD.

“If Snyder had accept this deal, the catastrophe would have been avoided,” Bill Johnson said.

What’s more, an engineering firm hired by the state’s Department of Treasury released a study in February 2013 that expressed concerns about the financial and operational risks of building the KWA pipeline, which had already cost 24% more than originally projected, and that’s not including anticipated cost overruns in the future.

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Then-state Treasurer Andy Dillon signed off on the KWA deal in April 2013, which ultimately led to the emergency manager deciding to draw water from the Flint River until the city connected to a new regional system.

Soon after the switch, Flint residents began complaining that they were getting sick from the water. State officials dismissed the complaints, saying the discolored, foul-tasting water was just “aesthetic” and posed no health hazards, despite two studies that showed elevated lead levels, especially in children.

Finally, in October 2015, after thousands of residents were poisoned by lead, state officials acknowledged they erred.

“I believe now we made a mistake,” then-DEQ Director Dan Wyant, who resigned in December, wrote to Snyder on Oct. 18. “Because of what I have learned, I will be announcing a change in leadership in our drinking water program.”

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Saying he was sorry for the mistake, Snyder pledged full transparency during his State of the State address last week and released e-mails related to the water crisis from 2014 and 2o15. Curiously, he refused to release e-mails from 2013, which would have showed why state officials decided to make the switch from DWSD to the KWA.

Now it seems clear why Snyder wouldn’t release the e-mails: They would have revealed that the switch was not about saving money.

So what was it about? Some have suggested that Snyder was motivated by a desire to break up DWSD and ultimately privatize it.
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In the summer of 2015, DWSD was split into two entities: the DWSD and the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Others have suggested that Snyder wanted to start fracking operations along a new pipeline.

Snyder’s office didn’t return calls for comment.

The e-mail about the proposal:

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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