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Flint mayor says $55 million needed to replace lead pipes

A water filter gets installed last month in a home in Flint, Michigan, as the city battles a toxic water crisis.

Story highlights

  • Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to ask lawmakers for an additional $195 million in funding
  • $37 million already has been approved
  • "We are going to restore safe drinking water one house at a time," says Flint's mayor

(CNN)The mayor of Flint, Michigan, said Tuesday she needs $55 million to remove lead pipes in the city beleaguered by a toxic water crisis. She is asking that Gov. Rick Snyder partner with her to get the funds.

"In order for Flint residents to once again have confidence and trust in the water coming from their faucets, all lead pipes in the city of Flint need to be replaced," Mayor Karen Weaver said.
    That dollar figure is what her public works staff and experts from the Lansing Board of Water and Light came up with during a meeting Monday, she said. The Lansing board pioneered lead pipe removal, the mayor said, adding that it has removed 13,500 lead pipes in Michigan's capital over 12 years.
    Beyond appealing to Snyder, the mayor said the effort to remove lead pipes will take coordination between city, state and federal entities and funding from the Legislature and Congress, or perhaps both.
    Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said the governor's office was reviewing Weaver's proposal.
    "Experts say that the best plan is to first coat the pipes with phosphates to inhibit corrosion, then conduct a study to determine which pipes need to be replaced. We're working with staff from the city, University of Michigan-Flint and FEMA to study old maps and handwritten city records to create digital maps to determine the location of pipes, and then compare with water testing results to target priority areas and best protect Flint residents," he said.
    "Gov. Snyder is including money in his budget request on Wednesday to address Flint water infrastructure. That figure could be a starting point, but we won't know for sure until we are able to study the pipes that are in place now and know better what needs to be replaced and how quickly."
    Deputy press secretary Anna Heaton said that the governor will ask the Legislature for an additional $195 million in funding for the crisis.
    Officials say $37 million already has been approved.
    "We'll let the investigations determine who is to blame for Flint's water crisis, but I'm focused on solving it," Weaver said.
    "We are going to restore safe drinking water one house at a time, one child at a time, until the lead pipes are gone."
    On Monday, Snyder told CNN affiliate WEYI-TV that he's not against removing lead pipes. But, he said, "It's more a question of let's do it in an organized thoughtful, scientific and engineering correct fashion."
    The governor told reporters January 27 that much work has to be done to determine the location of lead service lines and calculate how much it will take to remove them.
    Snyder is expected on Wednesday to present a budget plan for fiscal year 2016-2017 to the Legislature.
    For that reason, Murray said the governor declined an invitation to appear before a U.S. House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. The committee is set to talk about how the Flint water crisis has affected children. The Democrats-only committee does not have subpoena power.

    Switch in water supply was a cost-saving move

    The catastrophe has taken many turns, but it began in spring 2014 when Michigan officials in charge of the budget for the city -- which was facing a financial emergency -- decided to switch Flint's water source temporarily from Lake Huron to the Flint River.
    The cost-saving measure was put in place until a new supply line to Lake Huron was ready. The river had a reputation for nastiness, and after the April 2014 switch, residents complained their water looked, smelled and tasted funny.
    State officials initially told residents everything was fine. Dayne Walling, then the city's mayor, even made a point to drink the water on local TV, but Virginia Tech researchers in August performed tests and found the elevated lead levels.
    The scope of the problem came into even better focus when local pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha announced that records showed lead levels in toddlers had doubled, and in some cases tripled, since the switch from Lake Huron.
    Research shows lead exposure can affect a developing child's IQ, resulting in learning disabilities. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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    A class-action lawsuit alleges the state Department of Environmental Quality didn't treat the water for corrosion, in accordance with federal law, and because so many service lines to Flint are made of lead, the noxious element leached into the water of the city's homes.
    The city switched back to the Lake Huron water supply in October, but the damage had already been done.
    Last week, Washington lawmakers began trying to figure out why dangerously high levels of lead remained in Flint's water supply for so long, who should be blamed for it and what action could be taken to help the city's residents.
    During an emotionally charged hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, several lawmakers characterized the Flint crisis as a failure of government on all levels: local, state and federal.

    Individual lawsuit filed

    Separately, the family of a 2-year-old girl from Flint, who tested high for lead levels, has filed a federal lawsuit against officials in Flint and Michigan, including Snyder.
    The lawsuit alleges the toddler experienced "serious physical and emotion injury due to her exposure to the toxic water."
    According to the family's attorneys, the suit is the first individual (non-class action) lawsuit brought against the city of Flint and Michigan state.