Nearly a year before Michigan governor Rick Snyder publicly admitted his knowledge of the city of Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis, advisers in his office had advocated moving Flint back to its prior drinking water source “before this thing gets too far out of control”, newly released emails reveal.
And nearly seven months before Snyder’s announcement in October 2015, his former chief of staff had internally proposed purchasing bottled water for Flint’s residents – even as the governor’s administration publicly rebuffed any characterization that Flint’s water wasn’t safe to drink.
Those are some of the revelations in a batch of 550 emails newly released by Snyder’s office to the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News, a small slice of 8,000-10,000 emails expected to be released on Friday. Flint’s water became contaminated in April 2014 after the city, run by a governor-appointed emergency manager, switched its drinking water source to a corrosive local river. The city wasn’t required by Michigan’s environmental agency to treat the water with anti-corrosion agents that would have prevented lead from leaching off pipes and flowing into households.
It’s unclear why the governor’s office chose to release only a select number of emails ahead of Friday’s expected release. A message requesting comment was not immediately returned.
The release of emails from Snyder’s executive staff was portrayed by the governor as a move of transparency, as Michigan is one of only two states that exempts the state legislature and governor from the freedom of information act. That was clearly on the mind of Snyder’s legal team in October 2014, when it first discussed switching Flint back to Lake Huron water, after the city issued water boil advisories in wake of severe water quality issues.
Valerie Brader, deputy legal counsel and senior policy adviser to Snyder, wrote in a 14 October 2014 email to the governor’s then chief of staff and three aides that Flint should return to the previous water supplier, as it was an “urgent matter to fix”.
“As you know there have been problems with the Flint water quality since they left the DWSD [Detroit water and sewerage department], which was a decision by the emergency manager there,” Brader wrote.
Minutes later, Snyder’s then legal counsel Michael Gadola responded by saying the use of the Flint river as a water supplier was “downright scary”. Flint had switched water sources as a purported cost-saving measure until a new pipeline it planned to join was in operation.
Read more: The Guardian