(CN) – Michigan must continue delivering bottled water to Flint residents pending its appeal of an order requiring it to do so until it verifies residents’ water filters are working correctly, the Sixth Circuit ruled.
In November, a federal judge ordered the state to deliver four cases of bottled water per week to every Flint household, until officials verify the home has a properly functioning water filter on their kitchen faucet.
A divided Sixth Circuit upheld that decision Friday, finding the state’s claim that bottled water delivery would cost $10.5 million a month and bankrupt the city is “disingenuous.”
“According to the state defendants, the cost of verifying the proper installation and maintenance of water filters is $955,971. The cost of verifying and maintaining water filters and delivering bottled water to residents that are not part of the allegedly 96 percent of homes that already have a functioning water filter is nowhere near $10.5 million,” the per curiam order says.
The order was filed by U.S. Circuit Judges Damon Keith and Bernice Donald. Both are black Democratic appointees.
Without this injunction, the two-judge majority said it is unclear how the state planned to ensure Flint residents have access to safe drinking water.
“It cannot be overstated that it is an immediate requirement…that the state defendants provide safe drinking water to all residents of Flint,” the order states. “Although there may be no known precedent for the door-to-door delivery of bottled water, there is also no precedent for the systematic infrastructure damage to a water delivery system that has caused thousands of people to be exposed to poisonous water.”
U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton dissented from the panel’s decision, saying that the injunction would “do more harm than good” by forcing the government to prioritize bottled water deliveries rather than solving the root of the problem, the city’s corroded water system.
Sutton also disagreed with his colleagues’ finding that the city’s estimate of the injunction’s cost is “disingenuous.”
“Neither the plaintiffs nor the majority nor the district court denies that it will take roughly $1 million and several months to determine which water filters work and which do not,” Sutton said. “I cannot understand how the estimate is flawed as to the initial requirement of the preliminary injunction or how costs will not run in the many millions of dollars for two to three months.”
Sutton was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.
The lawsuit seeking to continue water deliveries was filed by Concerned Pastors for Social Action, water advocate Melissa Mays, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The contamination of Flint’s water became national news in 2014 when it became apparent that a lack of corrosion-control measures caused lead from the city’s aging system to leach into the water supply, subjecting thousands to possible lead poisoning and other illnesses like Legionnaires’ disease.
In addition to 12 deaths connected to Legionnaires, residents worry about the irreversible brain damage and other health problems that lead poisoning is said to cause in children.
Gov. Rick Snyder did not declare a state of emergency in Flint until this past January.
Since then, accountability for the disaster has devolved into a warped game of hot potato.
In addition to Snyder, who appointed Flint’s emergency manager, investigators are studying the role played by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which was responsible for performing corrosion control, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the state’s efforts.
Mike Glasgow, Flint’s former utilities administrator, has been charged with tampering with evidence and willful neglect of duty, and two ex-DEQ employees, Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby, have been charged with violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In a bid to persuade constituents that their water is finally safe to drink, Gov. Snyder visited a Flint home in April and made a big show of drinking filtered water.
Snyder left the home with several gallons of water and said that he plans on drinking it while “at home and at work.” He also said that his wife, Sue Snyder, is “on board with this” and will also be drinking the Flint water.
However, many residents remain wary of drinking the water and deeply distrustful of government officials’ claims about the safety of filtered water.