Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is hoping that a drink of water will help to replenish lost faith in his administration and — perhaps — temper calls for him to resign over his administration's handling of the Flint water crisis.
The city has come to epitomize the state of the nation's decrepit infrastructure and the failure of government agencies to protect the public, especially when they're poor and non-white.
In an effort to cut costs, a state-appointed emergency manager presided over a switch in the city's drinking water supply in 2014 from Detroit's municipal system to the Flint River, which caused the city's aging pipes to leach lead. Scientists found high levels of lead in children's blood in September 2015 and Gov. Snyder declared a state of emergency in January.
But during a Monday visit, Snyder pledged to drink only filtered Flint tap water for the next month.
"Flint residents made it clear that they would like to see me personally drink the water, so today I am fulfilling that request," said the governor in a statement. "And I will continue drinking Flint water at work and at home for at least 30 days."
'The governor is treating this crisis like it is a public relations problem for him rather than the public health emergency that it is for 100,000 people.'
Earlier this month, a group of government water authorities and independent researchers reported that the city's water had improved and that properly filtered tap water should be safe to drink. The group said the water is safe to bathe in unfiltered, but also advised that the system remains unstable and that at-risk groups, including young children and pregnant woman, should continue drinking bottled water.
Snyder has touted these finding as progress. But for residents who were told by government officials last year that their water was fine even while dangerous amounts of lead leached out of their pipes, the claim that the water is now safe is proving hard to swallow.
Researchers in the city say that low water use by residents may slow the process of restoring the protective coating that stops lead from leaching out of the city's pipes. But Flint Democratic congressman Dan Kildee sees the 30-day pledge as more helpful to Snyder than it is to the beleaguered Flint community.
"The governor is treating this crisis like it is a public relations problem for him rather than the public health emergency that it is for 100,000 people," said Kildee.
The question of who is to blame for the Flint water crisis has been taken up with partisan ire. Republicans lay the crisis at the feet of the federal government, by way of US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, while many prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have called on Snyder to resign.
Before he took to drinking Flint water as Michigan's Republican governor, Snyder was the CEO of a venture capital firm. He was elected in 2011 on the platform that he would run government more like a business, and it was the decision, aimed at cutting costs, made by his appointee to switch Flint off the Detroit Water Authority to corrosive water from the Flint River that touched off the lead contamination.
Snyder has repeatedly apologized for his role in the crisis and repeatedly said he will not resign.
Kildee has not joined the chorus calling for the governor's head, but he saw little of value in Snyder's decision to drink Flint water.
"State decisions led to this terrible tragedy and so far, the state has wholly failed to respond in a way equal to the gravity of the crisis." said Kildee.
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