For some people, the brief shortage put into perspective the struggles faced by the citizens of Flint, Michigan — a city which has not had clean water for nearly three years.
“The couple of hours we were here during the shortage really made us think about how privileged we are to have water as a resource,” Shilpa Kancharla, a junior at UNC, said. “We take it for granted.”
Flint City Council member Eric Mays said the water crisis arose in April 2014, when the city’s emergency manager switched Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint Water Treatment Plant, which hadn’t been utilized in over 40 years.
“What we know now is that that decision was made without the proper upgrades to the plant, and without letting corrosion control into the water to treat it,” he said. “It corroded the inside of our distribution pipes and allowed lead and other metals and irons to leach into our water and come through the faucet.”
The citizens unknowingly drank the water until early 2015, when high levels of lead were first detected. Now several years later, running water in Flint is still not safe to use.
Mays said children, infants and the elderly were likely to be especially affected.
“The challenge now is to repair our infrastructure and deliver safe, clean water back to the citizens of Flint, and that is a tall order,” Mays said.
After former President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in the city in January 2016, Flint received an outpouring of national support.
This included donations from Tar Heels for Flint, a UNC student-run campaign.
Dominque Brodie, a UNC sophomore, was involved in the campaign last school year — which raised $1,285 on its GoFundMe page.
“At that time, Flint was really in the news, so we knew that people would donate,” Brodie said.
Students working at the Student Recreation Center collected water bottles for donation earlier this week, and Kancharla ran a water bottle drive Thursday in the Pit.
“We figured the water shortage wouldn’t last long,” she said. “We were thinking people would overbuy supplies, and might have water bottles sitting around we could send to the people of Flint.”
Derb Carter, the Chapel Hill director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said water crises might be avoided with strong environmental programs.
He said he’s worried that under President Donald Trump, those programs might be under siege — and that more towns might be at risk for Flint-like crises.
Trump signed an executive order Jan. 30 mandating that federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, repeal two regulations for each new one they adopt.
“Basic protections for water quality and drinking water are under significant attack now,” Carter said. “There’s this general notion some are putting forth that we have too many regulations.”
“People need to realize that some of these regulations protect things as important as drinking water.”