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Experts meet on water infrastructure issues in Flint

Mar 7, 2017

Water quality experts and systems vendors are meeting in Flint, Michigan to discuss ways of addressing problems with aging municipal water systems
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder opened a conference on water infrastructure by pointing to Flint’s water crisis as a “warning signal.”

More than 300 water quality experts and water system vendors are in Flint for this week’s conference. The city’s lead-tainted tap water crisis has spurred concern about aging water systems across the country. 

In his keynote address, Gov. Snyder says Flint is not the only bellwether for infrastructure problems.

“We had a sinkhole in Fraser recently," Snyder told the crowd. "We had a boil water advisory in Detroit.  These are all warning signals. Not only warning signals, they’re hurting people today,” Snyder says.

The three-day conference is looking not only at ways to repair and replace aging municipal water systems, but also how to pay for it.

Cost is a major issue in Flint. 

A protester outside the water infrastructure conference
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The city is replacing lead and galvanized service lines connecting Flint homes and businesses to city water mains. Corrosion in those pipes is blamed for the high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water.

But it will take years to replace more than 20,000 service lines. And a lot of copper pipes.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver announced today the Copper Development Association has helped the city secure 200,000 feet of copper piping for the 2017 phase of the pipe replacement program, "saving the city and the state approximately $1 million,” says Weaver.  

Weaver and Snyder had very cordial words for each other as the conference began, despite their recent dispute over the end of state credits on city water bills. The state had been covering 65% of the water portion of Flint water bills. But that ended in February, as new tests show Flint water is now trending below the federal action level for lead.

Outside the conference, a small band of protesters picketed.

Melissa Mays, of Flint Rising and Water Your Fighting For, was upset that Flint residents were not giving more input at the conference.

“I think it’s wrong they’re holding an infrastructure meeting to talk about Flint in Flint while not allowing Flint residents in,” says Mays.

Flint residents will have a chance to share their views at another conference this week.

The mayor’s office is holding an environmental justice summit to discuss the issues raised by the Flint water crisis. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission recently cited “structural racism” as partly to blame for the crisis.