(CN) – The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Flint over city officials’ refusal to sign off on a long-term contract with a Detroit-based water authority.
Flint’s public-health problems began when the city switched water sources between April 2014 and October 2015.
During the switch from the Detroit water supply to the Karegnondi Water Authority, or KWA, Flint used water from the Flint River and its own water treatment plant. The city also used old, decaying lead pipes – leading to widespread lead contamination among residents.
The water that Flint used in this interim period “has been associated with multiple threats to the public health,” according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Detroit federal court.
Since fall 2015, the city has received water from the Great Lakes Water Authority, which the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, or MDEQ, says “has proven to be safe, reliable and protective of public health.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has negotiated a deal to keep the city’s water coming from the GLWA, which is based in Detroit.
However, according to the lawsuit, the Flint City Council has not approved the mayor’s deal.
“The City Council’s failure to act will cause an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health in Flint,” the MDEQ’s complaint states.
The MDEQ is asking a federal judge for a declaration that the City Council’s inaction was illegal and that it must approve the agreement to use water from the GLWA.
“There is simply no other option that will adequately protect the public health in Flint,” the lawsuit states.
Flint has not built a connector to the KWA, and the MDEQ claims it would take more than three years and at least $58.8 million to prepare Flint’s water treatment plant to deliver that water to residents.
The department added that any alternative plan Flint officials may approve would violate a settlement agreement.
The council has approved a short-term agreement with GLWA, but it will expire on Sept. 30, according to the lawsuit.
MDEQ sued the city of Flint for alleged violations of the Michigan and federal Safe Drinking Water Acts. Richard Kuhl and six other assistant attorneys general are representing the state in the lawsuit.
Mayor Weaver said in a statement that she was not surprised by the lawsuit.
“We were notified that legal action would be a consequence of Council choosing not to meet the requirements set before them to approve a long-term water source for Flint,” she said. “The recommendation I put forward months ago is the best option to protect public health and is supported by the public health community.”
Weaver added that her recommendation would allow the city to avoid a 40 percent rate increase and would provide for money to repair its damaged infrastructure.
“The people of Flint have waited long enough for a reliable, permanent water source,” she said. “Implementing my recommendation will provide that, and will allow us to move forward as a community and focus more on rebuilding our city.”