It’s been more than two years since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, arose, yet residents still cannot get clean drinking water straight from their taps. The Senate just passed a bill that may change that, however. But the bill, which provides $170 million to replace the city’s lead-contaminated pipes, could cause environmental harm to California, since policymakers added an addition to the bill that permit more Bay-Delta estuary water to irrigate farms.
California’s extended drought has wreaked havoc on abundant farmland and has forced families to cut back on water consumption. 35,000 jobs and 1 million acres of farmland have been lost, 2,400 private water wells have dried up, and over 100 million trees on federal land have died.
“We should not have to trade delinquent congressional action in Michigan for the erosion of endangered species protection and a threat to fishing jobs in California,” argued Scott Slesinger, who is a legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But that is the result of the partisan games at play in this bill.” He notes that federal funding to help fix the pipes is overdue, and that, while the bill is a “start,” there is much more to be done to ensure safe drinking water for communities across America.
The organization Defenders of Wildlife spoke up on the bill in a press release as well, saying it would harm wildlife such as Delta smelt and salmon. They noted that the bill “was a false choice created by opportunistic politicians who have signaled that they will use any means at their disposal to roll back important environmental protections. If this is the new way of business for the next Congress, we will fight them every step of the way, because voters did not vote to roll back protections for water, air and wildlife.”
Since 2014, many Flint residents have been anxiously awaiting safe, clean water. Now, with federal government money, the city has the opportunity to replace 29,000 service lines. And though 96 percent of samples from high-risk Flint houses passed the test for federal standards of lead, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver believes it is pertinent for old lead infrastructure to be replaced before the water crisis can be considered completely resolved.
The bill is sparking controversy despite the desperate need for Flint residents to obtain clean drinking water at last, since it would allow more Bay-Delta water to irrigate drought-afflicted farms. California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer said, “You’re destroying the Endangered Species Act,” but California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who wrote the bill with California Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy, explained that the legislation was the best they could do after working for three years.
The Guardian calls the bill one of “dozens passed in a mad dash before lawmakers return home for the holidays.”
Despite the overwhelming negative feedback, Michigan government officials celebrated the bill for its ability to finally tackle Flint’s alarming water crisis.
“It’s past time for Congress to put partisan politics aside and help the people of Flint, who are still without access to clean, safe drinking water from their taps,” said Senator Gary Peters.
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