A Flint, Michigan, couple said they were out “urban exploring” when they stumbled upon a shocking discovery — stockpiles of bottled water left inside an abandoned building.
Jimmy Cowell and his fiancée Kira found the hundreds of packages of bottled water last weekend at an abandoned school building near the former St. Agnes Church. Cowell, who recorded the discovery, said it all feels like a “slap in the face,” considering the city is still reeling from a devastating water contamination crisis.
“We were pretty dumbfounded that anyone could leave that much water behind that this city truly relied on,” he told the Flint Journal. “If anyone wants to know where [the] Flint donations went, it’s just sitting in abandoned buildings in stockpiles. … This is probably a 30-by-50 room full of water.”
The couple said they were out exploring forgotten buildings in Flint when they came across the stash. They said they heard the sound running water, and ventured to the basement to find a room stockpiled with cases of water “from floor to ceiling, wall to wall.”
The city’s residents were forced to rely bottled water donations after their water system was contaminated with lead in 2014, thanks to a decision by Flint leaders to switch the source of the city’s water supply.
Flint is nearly four years removed from the crisis and state leaders insist the water quality has improved. Still, many residents fear the water is unsafe to drink. Cowell, who lives in Flint, said he refuses to use the water from his tap.
“I do not drink the faucet water (and) if I shower for more than 10 to 15 minutes, it smells like I’m swimming in a freshly chlorinated pool,” he told Detroit’s WXYZ. “It kills the plants; it make them yellow. It bleaches them, it dries them out. If it’s doing that to plants then I’m afraid of what it’d do to me.”
The city is still in process of replacing thousands of lead-lined water pipes, which could take several more years. Last April, the city also announced the end of its free water distribution program that ensured that residents had access to safe, clean water.
When Cowell stumbled upon the water inside the abandoned school, he noted that it was spoiled, as the packaging had been damaged. He said he even found human feces nearby.
“Probably 30 people since I made the post yesterday, at least six messaging me asking where the water is so they can go get some,” he said. “I’ve had to tell them they do not want it. They’re probably just as well off drinking the faucet water. It’s pretty moldy and nasty in there with the fecal matter and all the other molds.”
“It hits home a little bit,” Cowell added. “They’re saying they are out of water yet there’s — they’ve got three or four semi-trucks of water rotting.”
So how exactly did the water get there and how did anyone let it go to waste when the need for clean, drinkable water is still so strong?
A social media post from 2016 showed a water delivery campaign by two Grand Rapids-based radio stations set up outside of the now-abandoned building. The stations called on the community to give, and residents dropped off their donations, according The Flint Journal. Those donations were then loaded onto two trucks and delivered to Flint, where local volunteers passed them out to residents.
“We were looking to serve the Flint community,” Roberto Torres, who helped facilitate the the water deliveries, told the newspaper. “We just unloaded the two trucks at the church, we just delivered the water.”
Torres, however, said he’s unsure who organized the event on Flint’s end and whether the stockpile inside the school is that water that was donated at a station in Grand Rapids.
Officials for the group that last housed the water, Regents Academy, have come forward since Cowell’s post went viral. An employee who last worked in the building said the water became unsafe to distribute after a sewer line issue caused a pipe to burst in the building, leaving the cases of water sitting in about an inch of murky water.
“We had nowhere for it to go,” Kiara Wilson, a former Regents Academy employee, told WXYZ. “You can’t sit it out, we didn’t know how to properly dispose of it. It’s a lose-lose situation. I hate that all the water went to waste, but we couldn’t sit it out.”
Wilson said a cleaning crew was called to clean up the mess, but it was recommended that the building be condemned.
Watch more in the video below.