PHOTOS & VIDEO: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Returns From Flint with Calls for Congress to Overhaul Crippled Water Infrastructure
Washington, DC—Following her visit to Flint and Detroit, Michigan, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) today spoke on the House floor urging passage of the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act (H.R. 5609). The WATER Act would authorize $35 billion a year to improve drinking water and wastewater services in states nationwide, including renovating old and lead-ridden water pipes, and stopping sewage overflows and other problems stemming from a national water affordability crisis.
On Saturday June 23, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard visited the city of Flint, MI where she heard from local community members who shared their personal stories of how they've been impacted by the ongoing water contamination crisis. She visited the Neighborhood Engagement Hub and heard from community leaders who are focused on bringing together all government and non-government stakeholders to find real short and long-term solutions. She helped to distribute cases of water to Flint residents, and met with another group of veterans, community leaders, and concerned residents about how they and their families are continuing to suffer.
On Sunday June 24, the congresswoman visited the Ohana Gardens Detroit, Earthworks Urban Farm, Rose's Fine Foods, and Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, where she toured the farms and other facilities, heard about the barriers and opportunities facing urban farmers, and discussed legislation she will introduce to support and empower urban farmers.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said:
“This weekend I visited Flint, Michigan, where I met with neighbors, residents, and community leaders - one of whom was named Joyce. Joyce is one of the more than 100,000 residents in Flint who have and continue to endure a life-threatening water crisis in their city, which has gone on for years. Like too many families in Flint, Joyce’s family has suffered incredible loss, due to the criminal contamination of Flint’s water.
“Joyce’s son is named Joseph. He was a father of three, and as any of us would, he believed that the water he drank, bathed, and cooked with – the water that he gave to his children – was clean. He had no reason to believe otherwise. But after the city of Flint changed its water source from Detroit’s water system to Flint River in 2014 to cut costs, Joseph began to develop rashes and bacteria that ate away at his flesh, forcing him to tape his skin together on his face and on his back with Band-Aids. It was so bad that his doctors kept asking him if he had travelled to a third world country recently. Where in the world had he been that had caused his organs to deteriorate as rapidly as they were? Joseph died, leaving behind his three children and his family and his mother Joyce, who continues to keep his memory alive.
“Joseph’s story is tragic and heart-wrenching, and the sad part is this is not a one-off case. Samples of drinking water from Flint found 13,000 in parts per billion (ppb) of lead in the community’s water, which is nearly 900 times higher than the EPA’s maximum limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Scientific evidence shows that this lead contamination has killed at least a dozen people in Flint from Legionnaires disease. It has deteriorated the short and long-term health of tens of thousands of people in the community, including at least 9,000 children under the age of six. It’s created ripple effects, causing fetal death and lower fertility rates that continue to have an impact on those who are affected, and will continue to have an impact on this community for generations to come. Now, there are other cases of other illnesses and cancers and things that are not even being tracked, but are likely related to this contaminated water and will continue.
“It’s been over 1,500 days since the crisis began, and the people of Flint today still do not have clean water. Understandably, they don’t trust their government to tell them the truth, after they’ve been told the water is clean and safe, time and again, only to show that it is not, and people continue to get sick. These are the same officials who decided to put cost-savings over human lives, who later reassured the community that the water was safe when they knew that it wasn’t.
“Despite this heartache, death, and destruction, those responsible at local, state, and federal government have not been held accountable for creating and perpetuating this horrifying crisis. Poisoning over 100,000 people through their water is criminal. Not only that, but the state has declared the water in Flint to be lead-free and has shut down the only bottled water distribution facility in the city. The need is still there, so we have churches and volunteers and the city who are coming together, cobbling together the means to distribute bottled water in whatever way that they can, taking care of each other, and demanding accountability for those responsible for this devastation. Understandably they feel that they have been forgotten, that their voices are not being heard, that they’ve been left behind. And all that they’re asking is that this country - our country - hears their personal stories, shine a light on the problems that still continue.
“This is not a problem isolated to Flint, Michigan, but is a problem that faces communities all across the country. We know that Flint is not alone with the aging and crumbling infrastructure in this country. We know that too many of our communities don’t have safe water to drink. We need federal investment in our country’s dangerously dilapidated water infrastructure now. In my home state of Hawai‘i alone, it’s estimated that we’ll need over a billion dollars in drinking water investment over the next twenty years, just to ensure that our people have safe water to drink.
“I’m a cosponsor of the WATER Act, which will make these critical improvements to our drinking water and wastewater services, replace old, lead-ridden pipes, and stop sewage overflows and other problems that are contaminating our national water infrastructure. We must hold those responsible for the poisoning of Flint accountable for the lives that they have ruined. Along with passing the WATER Act to law, we need to expand water testing in high-risk areas. We need to send a message to this country that we stand together. Water is life. We cannot survive without it.”
Background: Ensuring clean, safe, and affordable water for all has been among Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s top priorities in Congress. In 2016, the congresswoman joined thousands of veterans from across the country to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota. She’s also consistently demanded national attention and federal funding for the Flint Water Crisis. The congresswoman recently voted to pass the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018, to strengthen and upgrade water-related infrastructure in Hawai‘i and across the country, including providing federal funding of $199 million for flood risk management in the Ala Wai watershed on O’ahu.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard joined lawmakers in introducing the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2018 (H.R. 5609) to create a WATER Trust Fund, and dedicate $35 billion each year to grant programs and to Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Loan (SRF) programs. This legislation would provide dedicated annual federal support to:
- Fully fund the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds;
- Provide additional technical assistance to rural and small municipalities and Native American governments;
- Increase funding to construct, repair and service household drinking water wells;
- Create a new grant program for the repair, replacement or upgrading of household septic tanks and drainage fields;
- Increase funding to Native American governments for water infrastructure;
- Require EPA to coordinate a study about water affordability, discrimination by water and sewer providers, public participation in water regionalization efforts, and water shutoffs;
- Restrict Drinking Water SRF funding to publicly or locally owned systems;
- Provide funding for public schools to test and replace drinking water infrastructure; and
- Provide grants to replace lead service lines serving households.
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