This month I thought I would take a break from my usual long-winded analysis and just point to a nice feel-good story about the triumph of voluntary efforts over government incompetence and corruption. This is about how Jaden Smith, who you may know as a musician, actor, or most likely the son of actor Will Smith, decided to pick up where the government of Michigan dropped the ball.
To recap, there was a major scandal in the city of Flint when the state changed its source of water from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure. The river’s water is highly corrosive and was not treated with the necessary anti-corrosive agent. This resulted in lead and iron from pipes leaching into water, which is hazardous, especially to children. As a result, various mitigations were put in place to give the residents a safe source of water to work with while the pipes are being replaced. One mitigation is a program run by the state of Michigan, giving a ration of bottled water to Flint residents. Another one is an outpouring of private donations of bottled water, in large part by celebrities and major companies. (Notable “Flint resident” Michael Moore did his part by… [checks notes] telling people to stop donating water. But I digress.)
Municipal pipes have largely been replaced, and lead in the water is now testing below the federal limit and is supposedly safe to drink. However, residents are understandably slow to trust the government. And they have a point. For instance, some homes may contain lead pipes that need to be replaced. This means that donated water is still desired. However, donations are drying up. The end of the state’s free water program was also announced (though the recently elected governor seems to indicate she may extend it).
This is where Jaden Smith comes in, along with Drew FitzGerald (his partner at 501cTHREE and JUST Water), an organization called The Last Kilometer, and a few other organizations. The team consulted with the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, which has been a distribution hub for donated water since 2014, to see what their needs were. In the end, they came up with something called the Water Box, and unveiled it on March 2nd. It is a mobile water filtration system that can be hooked up to Flint’s sub-par water supply and pump out safe water.
The church is able to produce up to ten gallons of clean water per minute, filtering out lead, bacteria, and other contaminants. 501cTHREE is also paying for the church’s use of Flint’s water supply while they are still distributing the filtered water. This is just a start, but assuming this pilot program is successful, Jaden plans to expand the program with more water boxes in Flint and beyond. Jaden’s mother Jada Pinkett Smith has already announced that she would donate a second water box in Flint.
One neat part of this project is that the church conducts regular tests on the quality of the water using handheld devices as well as an independent laboratory (notably, unaffiliated with the city of Flint!), and posts the results on their website. This is important, since trust is such an issue for the residents right now.
You can help by sponsoring an upcoming water box or by purchasing water jugs for residents to fill up with water from the box.