In 2011, during its last financial crisis, the state of Michigan decided to take over Flint's finances, installing a succession of emergency city managers to drastically cut costs. Part of its plan included switching the city's water supply from the safe Lake Huron (which belonged to Detroit) to their own, notoriously gross, Flint River. And if you get to the point where you have to cheap out on your citizens' drinking water, it's time to admit your societal model has failed, set fire to the tallest building, and use it as a beacon of incompetence while the entire population slowly retreats back into the safety of the dark wilderness.
After the switch, people started suspecting that there was something wrong with their water. It was the little things, like its brown color, its terrible taste, and how after drinking it you'd get rashes, vomit, and your hair would fall out. Everyone in Flint knew it was safer to grill up a sewer rat than eat any fish caught from Flint's stream, but state and health officials had promised them they'd made the water safe to drink. We'd say they were feeding the people bullshit, but that would've been about three contamination levels better than what was actually coming through their pipes.
It was that color of brown, though, because when the water came "through" their pipes, we mean it literally. The Flint River water was known to be highly corrosive, and the city's treatment hadn't involved any anti-corrosion agents (anything to save a buck), so the water was eating away at the old piping system, chipping away at the lead. This caused lead levels in the water to spike as high as 13,200 parts per billion. At 5,000 ppb of lead, water is classified by the EPA as hazardous waste.
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