RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now an update on the water crisis in Flint, Mich. A federal court has approved a settlement of a significant lawsuit over the lead-tainted water in that city. The deal doesn't put money in people's pockets, but it should help heal the city's broken water system. Though it may also leave residents without the bottled water they have come to depend on. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports.
STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: Flint officials have planned for months now to replace 18,000 lead and galvanized service lines over the next three years. Yesterday, a federal judge assured that the city will have the money to do that. Reverend Allen Overton was a party to the lawsuit. He says it was largely in response to government indifference to residents' plight.
ALLEN OVERTON: Getting those lead pipes out of the ground will allow us to rebuild and restore faith in our community. And we're not done fighting. We are not done fighting. I repeat, we are not done fighting.
CARMODY: Under the settlement, Michigan will set aside $97 million to replace the pipes that are a primary source of lead in Flint's drinking water. About a fourth of that money will come from the federal government. In addition, the state must check Flint homes to see if residents have working water filters. The deal also requires more tap water testing by an independent monitor. Those behind the suit call the settlement a win for Flint. And for many of Flint's residents, it's a win that's way overdue.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You want some in the back seat too?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I got to put them in the garage myself.
CARMODY: Stopping by the old Flint Farmers' Market to pick up a dozen or so cases of bottled water is a weekly chore for Dawn Hairston. She's not impressed by the settlement.
DAWN HAIRSTON: What's taking so long? It should have been done by now. And then why did it take a lawsuit to get you to agree to the terms? Maybe it was just a matter of figuring out who was going to pay for it. It needed to be done. Why'd it take so long?
CARMODY: Other people here are upset that the deal will allow the state to end bottled water distribution in Flint if lead levels trend below federal limits. For more than a year, city residents have gone to distribution centers scattered around the city to pick up cases of bottled water and filters. The centers hand out more than 90,000 cases of bottled water every day.
But state officials now insist that tests show lead levels dropping to a point where tap water is safe to drink in most cases even without a filter. But few here trust anything the state says, though they may soon have to pay for bottled water themselves. Michigan's governor's office declined to comment on any other pending litigation. But yesterday's settlement may be a boon for others suing the state. Hundreds of lawsuits over Flint water have been filed during the past few years.
Michael Pitt is the lead attorney in several class action lawsuits and is hopeful that Michigan's willingness to reach a settlement signals an opportunity for suits like his seeking monetary damages.
MICHAEL PITT: We are anticipating that some of this momentum will come our way.
CARMODY: Meanwhile, lawyers for this settlement think it could have national impact. Michael Steinberg is the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. He says the settlement announced this week is a victory for Flint and other communities that have been hurt by shortcuts bureaucrats make to save money.
MICHAEL STEINBERG: Flint, Mich., is exhibit A on what happens when local people are stripped of their democratic rights and they start running democracy like a business.
CARMODY: Steinberg and others suggest that those advocating such a stance should first look at what happened in Flint. For NPR News, I'm Steve Carmody in Flint. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.