Funding Flint’s Infrastructure Repair

March 22, 2017

The citizens of Flint, Michigan, have every right not to trust the government. After their town’s water supply was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April of 2014 without being treated for corrosion prevention, many of them voiced concern. But their complaints about the water’s color, odor, and taste were ignored. Alarms went off, however, when high levels of lead, a neurotoxin, were detected in thousands of the town’s children. Meanwhile, twelve people died and many were sickened in a Legionnaire’s outbreak linked to the under-treated water. It took the state more than a year to acknowledge the issue.

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Last year Congress passed and former president Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act to allocate $100 million to aid Flint. This week the EPA fulfilled part of its promise by making $31.5 million available for lead pipe replacement. The state of Michigan agreed to provide a $20 million match, in order to support the infrastructural improvements. The remaining $68.5 million federal dollars will come after the city and Michigan complete additional public comment and technical reviews. 

But US News and World Report estimates that the total cost of the infrastructure upgrades to be between $200 million and $400 million. Where will the additional funding come from?

Retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel, the coordinator of the FAST Start initiative, recently told CBS News that his goal is to finish the pipe replacements for residents in 2019 by fixing service lines to 6,000 homes a year.

“So far, I’d say it’s been going slow,” he said. “We wanted to replace 1,000 service lines in the city of Flint in 2016 and we are still working on that contract even today because we’ve had a fairly warm winter.” As of last week, lines to fewer than 800 homes had been replaced with new copper pipe. McDaniel told CBS reporters that the next phase of the project will replace lines to 4½ homes a day to reach a total of 900 homes a month.

“We have enough money to do 2017, we’ve got about half the money we need for 2018, we don’t have money for 2019,” McDaniel said. “The plan that we have, we will be able to replace all the lead or galvanized service lines in occupied residences in the city of Flint in the next three years. But we don’t have enough money to do it all, so yes that’s absolutely a concern.”

What recommendations for expediting and financing infrastructure replacement do you have? If the choice were yours, where would you source additional funding?
About the Author

Laura Sanchez

Laura Sanchez is the editor of Distributed Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.