MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK, to Flint, Mich., now where high levels of lead in the drinking water have residents relying on bottled water for just about everything. It may come as no surprise, then, that thousands of those residents have stopped paying their water bills. That presents both questions and problems as Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports.
STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: Last week, Lynna Kaucheck handed a stack of papers to a staffer outside Flint's mayor's office.
LYNNA KAUCHECK: This is 21,000 petition signatures...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: OK.
KAUCHECK: ...From people across the country, calling on you to issue a moratorium on drinking water bills.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: OK, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Unintelligible). Thank you.
CARMODY: Kaucheck is with the group Food and Water Watch. She says it's wrong to make people in Flint pay for water they can't drink.
KAUCHECK: All of this is a lot for people to handle, and enough is enough. Flint residents need relief.
CARMODY: More than a quarter of Flint water customers stopped paying their water bills last fall after it was confirmed that their drinking water was contaminated with lead. That's cost the city millions of dollars. Potentially, the city may not have enough money in the future to pay for repairing broken water mains and replacing sewer lines. And those that argue that Flint residents shouldn't have to pay for tainted drinking water now have a new ally, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RICK SNYDER: I concur with the thought that people should not have to pay for water they couldn't drink.
CARMODY: Snyder is asking the legislature to give the city of Flint $30 million to cover the cost of water. The governor says Flint residents still should pay the part of their bills that support the water and sewer system.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RICK SNYDER: But with respect to the part that people didn't want to pay for it because they were having to drink it or didn't drink it, we want to to take care of that piece in particular.
CARMODY: The governor's plan would provide credit for water bills dating back to April of 2014 when the city's tap water source was switched to the Flint River. It was the failure to properly treat the river water that damaged the city's pipes, which continue to leech lead into the drinking water. Snyder says he and city officials still have to figure out exactly how to credit Flint water customers for the tainted water that they already paid for. But a credit is not enough for some Flint residents. A federal class action lawsuit is seeking $150 million in refunds and damages. Attorney Billy Murphy says the lawsuit he filed this week will compensate Flint residents for paying for water that he calls incredibly dangerous.
BILLY MURPHY: The city, the state, the local government officials, the governor all know that this was catastrophically wrong and that the citizens should not be made to add insult to injury by having to pay for dangerous, dirty, non-drinkable, non-usable water.
CARMODY: Flint residents are paying about eight times the national average for water. Neither the governor's plan nor the lawsuit will bring immediate relief to Flint residents, who still can't trust the water coming out of their kitchen faucet and are still getting a water and sewer bill in the mail every month. For NPR News, I'm Steve Carmody in Flint, Mich.
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