This morning, Flint’s mayor announced an ambitious plan to replace the damaged and dangerous drinking water infrastructure below the city’s streets—and work can begin as soon as next month.
Mayor Karen Weaver held a press conference with retired National Guard Brigadier General G.H. McDaniel to explain the plan, namely how the city will prioritize which pipes are replaced first. Those most at-risk (i.e. the homes where lead levels are the highest) will be first in line for pipe replacement, which will be paid for by both the state of Michigan and Congress. A lawsuit filed on behalf of residents by the Natural Resources Defense Council had specifically requested federal action for pipe replacement.
Although Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had commented recently that replacing the pipes was not a good short-term solution, Weaver seemed confident that the work could begin as soon as possible and would be finished within a year by 32 crews from the National Guard. “We’ll let the investigations determine who’s to blame for Flint’s water crisis, but I’m focused on solving it,” Weaver said.
Flint will get some help from its neighbor, too. The city will receive some authoritative technical advice from nearby Lansing, which fortuitously began replacing its own outdated pipes just a few years ago. After a similar lead scare in 2004—although not on such a large scale—Lansing’s Board of Water and Light has spent $42 million to install 13,500 copper lines for its 55,000 residential customers in a project that is on track to be completed next year.
Many other groups have offered engineering expertise, but it’s critical that Flint’s receiving local help. Not only does Lansing have experience with similar climate, water quality, and pipe age; the city has also been able to improve upon its own process. Throughout its own replacement project, Lansing’s engineers have become more efficient at swapping lead lines for copper: What used to cost about $3,100 per line can now be accomplished by two or three employees in a single day for about $2,000.
Image: AP / Paul Sancya