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Many Flint residents still won’t drink the water 5 years after crisis began: 'We're still having problems here'

The mayor of Flint, Michigan said 100,000 residents should still drink bottled or filtered water and that their water crisis is not over.

News cycles come and go, but some residents in Flint, Michigan, said many things there have stayed the same: they still won't drink the water.

Five years after the start of the water crisis, the city’s mayor said she won't advise people to consume the city's water supply. Many people said they distrust the people who say otherwise.

"When for a year and a half you know brown water is not good; for a year and a half you know you don't feel well; for a year and a half you notice a difference in your children; for a year and a half we had legionnaires going on and people died, it's hard to establish that trust," said Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who rose to power in the aftermath of the 2014 debacle.

Workers failed to apply corrosion inhibitors when the city changed its water source in 2014. This allowed chemicals to leach into the water supply of the city of 100,000 people, on par with Renton or Everett. There have been ebbs and flows since, like a change in leadership, financial assistance, and seals of approval from State and Federal leaders.

But Weaver said she is still skeptical: "I won't sign off on it."

The city is getting some renewed attention this week thanks to the nearby Democratic National Candidate debates in Detroit. Washington Governor Jay Inslee and a few others paid visits to the city as well.  

Weaver paints the picture of a slow-moving natural disaster. She said it's not just the water supply.

"People's in-home plumbing, their appliances, fixtures have been damaged," she said. "Fire trucks were ruined as a result of this corrosive water. It touched on some many different levels in the city of Flint."

She claims the city needs more support for homeowners with infrastructure and is still encouraging people to drink bottled or filtered water.

"We still don't drink it, they're still working on water lines here," said Flint resident Grant Morrison as he cast his reel into the Flint River, which has its issues. “It still gets me angry. My house water bill is $300, and I don't even drink the water. I just use it for showers and to use the bathroom."

Morrison said at the start of the crisis his water was a dark, brownish-green, and "people down the street got lead poisoning."

Also see | State of Michigan: No more free bottled water for Flint residents

"The situation is still as it is five years ago," said Deacon Bill Quarles, of the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church.

Quarles has lived in Flint for nearly 50 years and has seen the city change.

"Water sustains life, water is the lifeblood of us,” he said. “We take for granted the importance of water. It didn't hit home with me until it happened."

His church now runs weekly bottled water giveaways and allows people to fill up five-gallon containers of filtered water twice a week.

Quarles said people are often lined up four hours before opening and the church will run out of water in an hour. The service is provided at a building the church once planned to use as an outreach center until the crisis occurred. The building's tap water is still discolored, he said.

"The country, the states do not know that we're still having problems here," Quarles said. "Once you lose a person's trust, that's it. It's going to take a while for the residents of Flint to get it back."

"It's hard to trust it really is, and when no one is held accountable, you know, you're wondering what's up with that," Weaver said, who disagrees with outside advice to drink up. "Drink up! We heard that before, and we weren't fine."

Weaver said a vast plan to replace feeder lines is ahead of schedule, and hopeful that she'll have a change of opinion on the water quality this fall.

But she also admitted one reality.

The pipes may eventually all be fixed, but the trust will be hard to ever replace.