May 12, 2016 / 3:35 PM / 4 years ago

Michigan expands water payments in Flint to speed recovery

DETROIT (Reuters) - Michigan on Thursday extended and expanded coverage of water bills for residents of Flint to speed recovery from a health crisis caused by high levels of lead.

Running tap water is seen in Flint, a city struggling with the effects of lead-poisoned drinking water, Michigan May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

To encourage water use, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said, the state will pay for 100 percent of water in the month of May. Previously, the state had covered 65 percent of the water portion of a resident’s water and sewer bill.

“Flushing the pipes is essential for restoring the city’s water system and increasing the water quality in every home,” he said in a statement. 

Water experts have said heavier water use by Flint residents would flush out lead particles and spread the needed chemical phosphates and chlorine that will better protect the system.

The state previously set aside $30 million to cover the lower share of the water bill from April 2014 through April 2016. Ari Adler, a spokesman for Snyder, said the cost for full coverage in May is estimated at $1.7 million.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said a new TV and radio advertising campaign will launch on Friday that encourages residents to run their bathtub and kitchen faucets for five minutes each for at least two weeks as part of the push. Flint also continues to remove lead water pipes in the city, she said.

“We’re still determined to get the lead out of Flint,” she told reporters in a Flint news conference with the governor and EPA officials.

Under the direction of a state-appointed emergency manager, Flint switched water supplies to the Flint River from Detroit’s system in 2014 to save money. The state has been criticized for its initial poor handling of the issue.

The river’s corrosive water leached lead, a toxic element that can damage the nervous system, from the city’s water pipes. Flint switched back to the Detroit system last October.

EPA officials reiterated on Thursday that properly filtered water in Flint is safe to drink, but they still recommended pregnant women and children under the age of six drink bottled water out of caution.

Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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