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Water Management in Flint, Michigan, USA


Thousands of Flint’s residents (mainly poor and black)  have been exposed to lead and other pollutants in their drinking water. In April 2014, the Government of Michigan -Richard  Snyder as governor from the Republican party- switched the main city's water source from the Detroit Water and Sewarage Department (sourced from lake Huron and Detroit river) to Flint River. The main reason was that Flint city terminates its water service contract with the city of Detroit and in order to reduce cost the city had a project to build a new pipeline to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint. But as the construction of the pipeline delays, the water source switch to the Flint River. A very contaminated river that in the pass was a repository for industrial waste.  Since 2014, the corrosive water from the Flint River leached the lead from the old water pipes, mixing in the water supply and producing extremely high levels of lead.  According with a scientific analysis in 2015,  Flint River water has 10 times more lead compared to the same condition using Detroit water (Edwards et al 2015). Since 2014, Flint River consumption is creating a public health threat, specially for vulnerable populations such as children.  On February 2015, a Flint resident contacted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the extremely high levels of lead in her water, the EPA told water personnel that a corrosion program should be in place and in June the same year, EPA confirms “High Lead Levels in Flint, Michigan.” In September, a Doctor from Hurley Hospital finds very high lead levels in children. In order to face the crisis, in 2015, the Governor created the Flint Water Advisory Task Force to review state and in December 14, 2015 Flint declares a state of emergency.  In January 2016 as a form of protest, a crowd of 150 protesters circled through the hallways of the Michigan state capitol, toting jugs of dirty water and calling for action on a drinking water crisis.

During 2015 protests and lawsuits against the city were carried out from activists and clergy groups. After the dismission of the cases, in April 2016, 514 residents file class actions. The plaintiffs allege negligence and demand more than $220 million in damages for the EPA's role in the water crisis. The same year, as a environmental justice platform Flint activists announce the formation of a new initiative, the Community Development Organization. Created in response to the water crisis, this organisation assist and share information with those effected by the Flint River water switch.  As a temporary action water filters, bottled water and at-home water test kits are being provided to Flint residents.  Four government officials, gave up due to their mismanagement of the water crisis, and Snyder issued an apology to citizens while promising money to Flint residents for medical care and infrastructure improvement. The long-term health effects of that poisoning may not be fully understood for years. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Water Management in Flint, Michigan, USA
Country:translation missing: en.countries.united_states_of_america
State or province:Flint
Location of conflict:Michigan
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Water access rights and entitlements
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

no data

Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:1700 (direct impacted)
Start of the conflict:04/2014
Relevant government actors:Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), Michigan Department of Environmental Quality,Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services,
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Supporters: Michigan Civil Rights Commission,Virginia Tech,
EJOs: Community Development Organization,

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases, Deaths
Potential: Malnutrition
Other Health impacts-People got rashes, lost hair and were sickened by the water.
-More than 10 people in Flint have died from Legionnaires' disease (caused by any type of Legionella bacteria)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Violations of human rights, Loss of livelihood
Potential: Displacement, Specific impacts on women, Increase in violence and crime


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
-Four government officials, gave up due to their mismanagement of the water crisis
Development of alternatives:Michigan Civil Rights Commission demand for the provision of bottled water and filters and the deployment of school nurses, and tending to the special needs of children and the elderly.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:As a temporary action Water filters, bottled water and at-home water test kits are being provided to Flint residents. But, the long-term health effects of that poisoning may not be fully understood for years.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the lens of Flint

High Lead Levels in Flint, Michigan - Interim EPA Report

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts

A Question of Environmental Racism in Flint

Residents of Flint, Mich., Sue EPA over Water Crisis

150 crowd Michigan capitol in protest over Flint water crisis

Michigan civil rights panel: Flint water crisis rooted in 'systemic racism'

Lead levels fall below federal limits in Flint, Michigan: state

Flint River water is very corrosive to lead, and causing lead contamination in homes

State of Emergency Declared in the City of Flint

Other documents

More than 150 protesters from Flint and Detroit chanted on Thursday in the main lobby of the Capitol in Lansing Source: New York Times


Water from both rivers

Other comments:For civil rights advocates, the health crisis in Flint smacks of what has become known as environmental racism as according to them, environmental decisions are often related to political power.

Meta information

Contributor:Grettel Navas, ENVJustice Project
Last update27/02/2017



More than 150 protesters from Flint and Detroit chanted on Thursday in the main lobby of the Capitol in Lansing

Source: New York Times



Water from both rivers