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flint water plant

Flint only has one choice for its water supply

Oct 28, 2017
Daniel Howes / Detroit News

This week's boil-water disaster in Oakland County may not instill much confidence in Flint City Council members.

They’re being pushed to green-light a deal with the Great Lakes Water Authority. But they should consider the alternatives.

There aren’t any.

Not for a place marinated in the politics of water, bureaucratic incompetence at all levels of government, and the high cost of bad decision-making.

University of Michigan Professor Rosina Bierbaum says scandals like Flint's water crisis have eroded public trust in the safety of drinking water
Courtesy of Raiz Up

There's a political and legal battle happening over Flint's drinking water.

U.S. District Judge David Lawson ordered Flint's City Council to choose a long-term source of drinking water, scolding the council for taking so long to green light the city's deal with the Great Lakes Water Authority.

The Council punted this week, okaying a short-term deal with the GLWA. But the tug of war between Flint's Mayor Karen Weaver, the council, the state, and Judge Lawson continues.

The Flint Water Treatment Plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

FLINT, Mich. - A consultant says the cost of upgrading Flint's water treatment plant is estimated at $108 million, up slightly from an earlier estimate.

The Flint Journal says the recent report by engineering and construction company, CDM Smith, includes $37 million for the construction of two, 21-million gallon water storage tanks and more than $34 million for pump and transfer station upgrades.

A December draft report put the cost at $105 million.

Inside the Flint water treatment plant.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint city council members say they need to know more about plans to upgrade the city’s water plant.

Mistakes made treating water drawn from the Flint River resulted in corrosive water damaging the city’s pipes. The damaged pipes leeched lead into Flint’s tap water.  

More than a year after the city’s drinking water source was switched back to treated water from Detroit, tests still show elevated levels of lead in the tap water of many Flint homes. 

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Preparing Flint’s water plant to treat water from a new Lake Huron pipeline will take a few years.

Problems at the water plant helped to create Flint’s current troubles with lead-tainted tap water. 

JoLisa McDay, Flint’s interim utilities director, told a town hall meeting Wednesday that it’s about more than buying new equipment. 

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

This fall, water experts from around the world are expected to come to Flint for a summit on water infrastructure issues.

Flint’s water crisis has become a symbol for the problems facing aging water systems.

Bryce Feighner is special advisor on drinking water with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He’s helping to organize the summit.

Feighner says they’re reaching out to experts across the U.S. and Europe, seeking innovative answers to the problems that Flint and other cities with aging, faltering municipal water systems face.

Inside the Flint water treatment plant.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The city of Flint has met an EPA deadline to upgrade equipment at the city’s water plant.

The EPA sent the city of Flint a letter one week ago saying the city had until today to install and have operational equipment to add additional chlorine and other chemicals to the city’s water supply.

Flint gets its tap water from Detroit already treated with chemicals to impede the growth of bacteria and other organisms. But chemicals, like chlorine, lose their effectiveness the longer they are in the system.  

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

The city of Flint may have equipment in place by the end of the week to improve chlorine levels in city water.   

But it may not be operating.

The Environmental Protection Agency sent the city of Flint a letter last week saying there is an “urgent need” to have the ability to boost chlorine levels in the city’s water supply. They set a date of Friday June 10th to have equipment “installed and operational.”

Chlorine and other chemicals are added to water supplies to kill bacteria, like Legionella.  Warm summer weather helps bacteria to grow. 

Flint water plant manager Jolisa McDay in red sweater in front of microphones
steve carmody / Michigan Radio

The city of Flint is taking steps to deal with a key staffing issue in its drinking water crisis.

Federal regulators have criticized Flint officials for not hiring more people to operate the city’s water plant.  The EPA says the city needs more professionals to ensure it stays in compliance with federal regulations. 

The city’s new water plant supervisor started work this week. 

Jolisa McDay has 15 years experience.  She sees Flint’s system as a “challenge”.

“I’m diligently working to be sure that we have all that we need,” says McDay.