The Silenced Stakeholder – The Water in Flint River

Humans naturally look at problems as a series of cause and effect events. In the case of Flint, Michigan, the water crisis is framed as a situation caused by a city official which affected the residents. The environment is never factored into the cause and effect equation, and the media does not cover the crisis of the water itself.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan started in April 2014, when the Governor of Michigan decided to change Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to Flint River to save money.[1] According to New York Times, “soon after [the water source switch], residents began to complain about the water’s color, taste and odor, and to report rashes and concerns about bacteria”.[2] The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a current issue with three major stakeholders: the residents of Flint, city officials, and the water in Flint River. However, media coverage has only focused on the agendas of the residents and city officials, leaving out the voice of the water in Flint River. This is ironic because the only way to solve the water crisis in Flint, Michigan is to solve the problem of the silenced stakeholder: the water in Flint River.

The residents of Flint, Michigan are stakeholders with influential power when mobilized, whose main agenda is to have safe drinking water. The switch in water source of Flint, Michigan adversely affected the health of the residents. A resident by the name of Michael Webber is quoted in Huffington Post article saying “An artery in my eye burst. …They’re just saying it’s due to high blood pressure”.[3] Michael Webber experienced an eye stroke, and loss of vision in his eye. However, Mr. Webber’s anecdote is not unique, many residents of Flint have complained about rashes, and high blood pressure. These complaints reached national attention when 104 parts per billion of lead were discovered in Lee Anne Walters’s water, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was called.[4]The EPA linked the high concentration of lead to the symptoms of the residents. The ability of the residents to rally around the issue of unsafe water brought media attention, the EPA, and Obama to highlight the water crisis in Flint.

On the other hand, the Governor Snyder is a stakeholder whose strengths are derived from his policy passing power while, his agendas are based in opportunities to generate more revenue for the city. Governor Snyder, in the case of the Flint, acted under elitist theory by creating public policy that favored elites.[5] Elitist theory is seen when Governor Snyder chooses to switch General Motors water source back to Lake Huron, after the company complained their car parts were corroding.[6] Additionally, some argue that Governor Snyder was trying to save money when he switched the water sources, which resulted in the water crisis. Throughout Snyder’s term as governor, he gave many tax breaks to the upper class and wealthy corporations. If those tax breaks did not occur, Huffington Post author Michael Moore eludes to the fact that Snyder would have had enough money to continue pumping fresh water from Lake Heron to Flint. [7] Governor Snyder’s decision was centered on increasing the revenue of the city, which meant making the people who had large amounts of wealth happy. Media coverage of the Flint residents exposed Snyder’s preferential treatment of the elite.

Lastly, the water in Flint River is a stakeholder who goes unnoticed in this water crisis. The water in Flint River derives its strength and weakness from human manipulation. The water in Flint River strength is its ability to be manipulated by humans into water that can be used for consumption and to generate profits. On the other hand, the water’s weakness is its inability to protect itself against the harms of human manipulation such as contamination. Thus, the water in Flint River falls victim to both the city officials and Flint residents. An article in the guardian stated “The main contributor of the Flint River’s high chloride concentrations… is road salt combined with … the additional chloride the city uses to clean the water”.[8] Thus, the combination of road salt used by residents when it snows and chloride used by the city to clean the water corroded the lead pipes in the Flint River.

Governor Snyder is not solely to blame for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The crisis began when humans began to develop the city of Flint, Michigan without measuring the impact on the Flint River. Henceforth, the solution to the residents’ water crisis could have been solved if the water in the Flint River was properly managed and taken care of in the beginning. Even though this is not the most popular opinion, the solution to the water crisis should focus on cleaning the Flint River. The water is at the root of the issue, and understanding how this quiet stakeholder actually has the power to change a community’s circumstance if used correctly is worth media attention. Flint’s city officials should start restoring the ecosystem of the Flint River, instead of idly waiting around for money to fix the pipes.

Bibliography

[1] Lurie, Julia. “A Toxic Timeline of Flint’s Water Fiasco.” Mother Jones. January 26, 2016. Accessed February 05, 2016. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/01/flint-lead-water-crisis-timeline.

[2] Lin, Jeremy C.F., Jean Rutter, and Haeyoun Park. “Events That Led to Flint’s Water Crisis.” The New York Times. 2016. Accessed February 05, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/21/us/flint-lead-water-timeline.html?_r=2.

[3] Lewis, Phillip, and Arthur Delaney. “How The Federal Government Botched Flint’s Water Crisis.” How The Federal Government Botched Flint’s Water Crisis. January 12, 2016. Accessed February 4, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/flint-lead-water-epa_us_569522a8e4b086bc1cd5373c.

[4] Lin, Jeremy C.F., Jean Rutter, and Haeyoun Park. “Events That Led to Flint’s Water Crisis.”

[5] Kraft, Michael E., and Scott R. Furlong. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010.

[6] Moore, Michael. “10 Things They Won’t Tell You About the Flint Water Tragedy. But I Will.” The Huffington Post. February 01, 2016. Accessed February 05, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-moore/10-things-about-flint-water-tragedy_b_9132150.html.

[7] Moore, Michael. “10 Things They Won’t Tell You About the Flint Water Tragedy. But I Will.”

[8] Laylin, Tafline. “How Michigan’s Flint River Came to Poison a City.” The Guardian. January 18, 2016. Accessed February 28, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/18/michigan-flint-river-epa-lead-contamination-mdeq-pollutants-water-safety-health.

 

Bullock, Graham. “Stakeholders and Values.” Lecture, Environmental Politics, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, January 19, 2016.

Kraft, Michael E., and Scott R. Furlong. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010.

Laylin, Tafline. “How Michigan’s Flint River Came to Poison a City.” The Guardian. January 18, 2016. Accessed February 28, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/18/michigan-flint-river-epa-lead-contamination-mdeq-pollutants-water-safety-health.

Lewis, Phillip, and Arthur Delaney. “How The Federal Government Botched Flint’s Water Crisis.” How The Federal Government Botched Flint’s Water Crisis. January 12, 2016. Accessed February 4, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/flint-lead-water-epa_us_569522a8e4b086bc1cd5373c.

Lin, Jeremy C.F., Jean Rutter, and Haeyoun Park. “Events That Led to Flint’s Water Crisis.” The New York Times. 2016. Accessed February 05, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/21/us/flint-lead-water-timeline.html?_r=2.

Lurie, Julia. “A Toxic Timeline of Flint’s Water Fiasco.” Mother Jones. January 26, 2016. Accessed February 05, 2016. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/01/flint-lead-water-crisis-timeline.

Moore, Michael. “10 Things They Won’t Tell You About the Flint Water Tragedy. But I Will.” The Huffington Post. February 01, 2016. Accessed February 05, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-moore/10-things-about-flint-water-tragedy_b_9132150.html.

 

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