The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Behind the Flint Disaster Is Karegnondi

May 23, 2016

The bourgeois media in Detroit, in mid-May finally began to dig into what is behind the catastrophe at Flint, that is the building of the Karegnondi water line from Lake Huron.

The following text was adapted from a section in a SPARK forum given in Detroit last February 21, already looking into the problem.

So how did things get to the point of the lead poisoning and Legionnaires’ Disease in the Flint water system? Why did Flint switch to Flint River water?

You keep hearing on the news about Detroit water, and Flint water, etc. Well it’s not “Detroit” water. It is Lake Huron water vs. Flint River water. The Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) is the water system that has long provided the water for much of southeast Michigan. Almost all of the suburbs and going up into the rural areas, all the way up to and beyond Flint, have been provided water by the Detroit water system for a long time.

DWSD has three current intake water tunnel systems to supply water to this big area. The most recent to be built came into service in 1973, supplying Lake Huron water to Flint and other areas. This system from Lake Huron has NEVER been used to its full capacity.

Nonetheless proposals were pushed through to create a new water line (the Karegnondi Water Authority, the Indian name for Lake Huron). For simplicity’s sake, everyone calls it KWA.

KWA will be getting water from Lake Huron, just like the DWSD system. In fact the new pipeline is only about six miles from the current pipeline and runs parallel almost the whole way to Flint. It defied logic that it would be cheaper to build a whole new water system including intake tunnels in Lake Huron, plus lines stretching 50 or more miles all the way to Flint, plus a new water treatment plant out in the middle of nowhere, when you already have this in place.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that building a duplicate system, costing anywhere from 275 to 600 million dollars, and paying off bonds for the next 30 years is NOT going to save money. It’s only logical instead that it would cost MORE money to do this.

The new KWA system is supposed to be finished later this year. But in the interim, the state appointed Emergency Financial Manager who was running Flint decided in 2013 to switch to dirtier Flint River water—to save money!

If this unneeded KWA water line had never been built, there would have been no need to switch in the interim to Flint River water. If there had been no switch to river water, there would have been no lead poisoning.

Who profits from KWA? It is clear that politicians of both parties were behind the push to build a new water line. The news media is finally starting to look at the construction contracts and who paid off whom to build an unneeded water system.

Jeffrey Wright, Genesee County Drain commissioner is also the CEO of KWA. He got campaign contributions from some of the very companies building the new KWA system. When he was interviewed by Channel 2 about his getting paid off, his response was “others got money too.” You can imagine a lot of politicians had their hands greased with money.

But the corruption doesn’t begin to explain everything. No matter which politician got paid off, you can be sure it was done at the urging of the big rich corporations.

The area east near Lake Huron is ripe for fracking, and fracking needs a LOT of untreated, yet clean water. DTE Energy (who you all know of because of your electric and gas bills) was a player in getting the new KWA system built. Big agricultural businesses run through a lot of farm country. And there still are big factories in the Flint area. All of these players want clean yet untreated water, and want it cheaply, that is, they want someone else to pay for it. Well, Flint is paying for it, with people’s health—and with new water rates that are scheduled to double.

The other part of the building of this new water system that raises questions is the placement of water treatment plants. The DWSD system has water treatment plants right near the shoreline, which is what ordinarily would happen. But with KWA, they will be way inland. That means the treated water either has to be shipped BACK to the communities near the shore, or they will have to build their own water treatment plant. Or there is a yet to be revealed reason why someone wants untreated water, and lots of it—and that comes back to fracking and DTE and agriculture all wanting untreated water.

All these decisions—to build KWA, to switch to Flint River water, instead of the much cleaner Lake Huron water, to build treatment plants inland—these decisions all boiled down to money. The building of a new water system, which led to this whole catastrophe, was all about building a new water line to serve the interests of big businesses, to give them better rates on water, and if needed give them lots of untreated water that big agriculture and big businesses want and want cheaply.

Nobody Should Live Like This!

The decisions made about Flint had nothing to do with the well-being of the people.

In human terms, it is almost impossible to understand what it means that you can’t use the water, unless you actually experience it. It’s not just about drinking water, but cooking, washing dishes, bathing, washing your hands, etc. About the only thing the water in Flint is clearly safe for is the toilet. Just as an example: There have been many people donating water to Flint. The city of Detroit quickly sent 500,000 bottles of water to Flint. That sounds like a lot, right? In reality, that is only five bottles for each of the 100,000 residents in Flint. That will be taken up in ONE meal—if you include the cooking, washing your hands, drinking a glass of water and then doing the dishes. People in Flint are having to bathe their children using bottled water, heated up on the stove. As the Detroit Free Press headline said a few weeks ago, “NOBODY SHOULD BE LIVING LIKE THIS!”