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Flint Gets ‘Fast Start' on Pipe Updates

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

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Following the flood of public outcry and media attention given to the corrosion of Flint, MI’s lead water pipes, the city has officially begun replacing the service lines of its residents’ homes.

Of the more than 8,000 residences that will need to be retrofitted, the home of Barry Richardson II, his pregnant fiancé Ashley Haddock, and his 8-year-old daughter was the first to get new pipes, The Detroit News reported Friday (March 4).

“We’re really happy to know we can stop worrying so much about our children’s health being endangered by lead in the water,” Richardson said in a statement from Mayor Karen Weaver’s office.

Flint Water Plant
© / ehrlif

The City of Flint, MI, has officially begun replacing the service lines of its residents’ homes under the mayor's Fast Start initiative.

The massive infrastructure update is being undertaken under Weaver’s “Fast Start” program. Fast Start aims to replace all lead service lines in Flint and restore safe, clean drinking water as soon as possible to its citizens, her office said.

Getting a ‘Fast Start’

Weaver launched the Fast Start lead service line replacement program after lead was discovered in the water supplying the city of about 100,000 residents.

As previously reported, the situation developed after a state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint’s water source in 2014 to the Flint River.

The changeover occurred without the required anti-corrosive chemicals being added, the city said, and as a result, the corrosive water removed a protective coating on the inside of the pipes, allowing lead to leach into the water going to homes and businesses.

The initiative will begin by targeting homes in neighborhoods with the highest number of children under the age of six, senior citizens, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, and households where water tests indicate high levels of lead at the tap, the city said.

At this time, the city and contractors are also in the process of determining which homes have lead service lines. 

The initial phase of the project is able to get started using the $2 million reimbursement received from the state for what it spent last fall reconnecting to water supplied by the Great Lakes Water Authority. State and federal funds will be needed to continue the work.

The goal is to have 30 homes retrofitted within the next three weeks, and for work to balloon as more contractors are hired and trained to do the work.

Retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel told the Detroit News he believes the replacement program can be completed within one year.

McDaniel indicated the amount of time it takes to replace one lead service line is four hours. “It took longer than that today,” he noted, adding that it was the first time the crew tackled the work and that some problems arose while digging.

“[B]ut as we move through this, I think we’ll be able to do it in 3-4 hours,” he said.

Initial Planning

The Fast Start plan was developed with the technical assistance and expertise of the Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL), which replaced most of Lansing’s lead service lines with new copper lines over the past decade, Weaver noted in a February announcement.

BWL pioneered efficient lead pipe removal techniques that Flint officials want to implement to help replace its city’s 550-mile network of pipes much faster and at a significantly lower cost than traditional methods, the mayor’s office noted. BWL has removed 13,500 lead pipes in Lansing over the last twelve years at a cost of $42 million, it added.

A preliminary project scope developed by BWL indicated that up to 15,000 lead pipes could be removed in one year under optimal conditions. Weaver said the full-scale operation will require dozens of work crews and a robust administrative and logistics team at an estimated cost of $55 million.

The EPA forecast costs ranging from $50 million to $80 million to replace all the lead service lines in Flint, the Detroit News said.

Funding the Work

To underwrite the rest of phase one of Fast Start, Weaver has been calling on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to get GOP leaders in the Michigan Legislature to approve $25 million in funds, her office said.

Flint Water Tower
© / LindaParton

A preliminary project scope indicated that up to 15,000 of the city's lead pipes could be removed in one year under optimal conditions at an estimated cost of $55 million.

She is also asking Congress to pass a bipartisan plan led by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan for $220 million in clean water and health funding.

Additionally, the city anticipates the state legislature will pass a $195.4 million supplemental appropriations package to provide health services, children and family services, and educational intervention strategies to help impacted families in the city, Weaver’s office said.

“I want to say again that I am totally resolved to get the lead out of Flint. But we can’t stop there,” Weaver said. “We need to move on to a complete renewal of Flint’s water system, and to provide health, education, economic and family services to the children and adults in Flint who have been affected by the water crisis.”

However, according to the Detroit News, Republicans in the state House are attempting to block any provisions to provide supplemental aid to Flint.

“I’m so glad we’re getting the attention that we’re getting because that’s going to help us keep the pressure on, and help for accountability to be there,” Weaver said of the situation.

“I think the pushback is not deserved because we didn’t deserve what happened. We didn’t have a voice and that’s how this happened because our voice had been taken. So we’re going to push back,” she added.

The work done at the Harrison home March 4 was part of the city’s goal to replace 30 lines in 30 days. It will need more funding to go beyond that, the News noted.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; North America; Pipeline; Pipes; potable water; Quality Control; Water Works

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/9/2016, 4:43 AM)

Who has been in charge of this mess for 84 years ????

Comment from Mark Anater, (3/9/2016, 7:59 AM)

To answer your question, Billy: everyone, and no one. Infrastructure isn't an issue that wins elections, so when budgets get tight, deferring maintenance is an easy call. By the time problems crop up, it's someone else's concern. The public doesn't think about these things until there's a crisis like Flint's, but the same thing can happen in a hundred other places. Flint just got unlucky and went first.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/9/2016, 8:29 AM)

With the right water mix (noncorrosive/high-ish Langlier index) and passivators - lead service lines aren't that much of a problem. Should they be replaced? Absolutely. However, they are not an emergency if the lead inside is coated with a nice passivation/scale layer and the lead can't leach out.

Comment from Jeff Laikind, (3/9/2016, 9:46 AM)

Unfortunately, lead service lines and lead solder affect millions of older properties in this country. A recent NYT article describes how in 2001, a change in chlorination caused high lead levels in Washington DC for 3 years. The NIH says that Greenville and Dunham, NC had high lead levels after changing flocculants from Alum to Ferric chloride. It goes on and on. But it seems to be easier to blame one group of elected officials than to fix a national problem.

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/10/2016, 4:13 AM)

Exactly my point "Infrastructure" our Nation's Infrastructure continue's to crumble we have the information as to why corrosion is happening, where the failures occur and why that is where it seems to stop, Blame is enough to go to Both parties or more specifically The career politicians ignoring what infact should be our highest priority from Both Parties we as an industry have the (PAC) we just need more Action towards the rehabilitation budget for Infrastructure Projects, the stimulus money that was supposed to go to shovel ready jobs did in fact not , and again our Nations Infrastructure has been ignored yet again, Our Industry needs to rise up in defenses of this Nations Infrastructure and make it an issue every year until we Fix whats wrong.

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (3/10/2016, 11:02 AM)

I believe we need to find out who is to blame for the problem. Saying everyone is accountable is ludicrous. The blame needs to be placed on those who bypassed the important decisions and decided to spend money elsewhere versus spending money on clean water. This reminds me of the National bail out a few years ago. When it becomes a national crisis. Billions of dollars are spent by politicians to supposedly solve problems. Problems do not get solved. Whomever is to blame needs to be held accountable and prosecuted. Then hopefully other cities or municipalities who are in charge of supplying clean water to its citizens take notice and start checking its water supplies and start correcting its deficiencies. Of Course this article is stating REPUBLICANS are trying to block efforts to provide aid. I thought the Democrats have been in control for decades?

Comment from Mark Lewis, (3/10/2016, 12:08 PM)

Politics aside, I hope they take into account that the new copper service lines will corrode unless they are cathodically protected. This is accomplished either by connecting them directly to cast iron mains, or by installing anodes.

Comment from Larry Zacharias, (3/10/2016, 12:38 PM)

Who is responsible: a history. Profligate democrats have ran Flint for decades, putting the city into bankruptcy, leaving no money for infrastructure maintenance. The decline of the rust belt did not help the situation. City cannot meet financial obligations to regional water supply collation, which threatens to cut off access to historical water supply. (i.e. neighbors refuse to subsidies Flint.) A republican governor appoints democrat african american as receiver to manage the bankrupt city’s finances. The receiver orders a change in water supply. (Technical incompetence-yes, politics –no, racism-no.) New water system removes proactive coating from lead pipes and lead poisoning ensues. The situation is initially shoved under the rug because there is no money to fix the problem. City and state ask congress for funding to replace the lead piping. Some congressmen baulk because they do not believe the city has reformed its finances and is expecting others to bail it out. Note: the lead piping in question is the line connecting the home to the city pipe distributing the water, not the water distribution pipe. In my city, that pipe is the responsibility of the home owner – not the city. The responsibility for these connecting lines may vary depending on local and state regulations. Flint is not the only city with lead pipes. Perhaps replacement of these pipes should be part of a national infrastructure rehabilitation project and not just a fix in Flint.

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/11/2016, 4:54 AM)

Democrats have been in control of flint for 84 years, they ignored the very voters they represent , now they want the federal government to bail them out , this belongs to the state of michigan and to local tax payers, the Bill is going to be expensive but it belongs to the DNC for 84 years Democrats have Taken from flint now its time to pay for the complete mismanagement of the first obligation keep people safe, provide clean safe drinking water Democrats just expect to divert attention away from them and most media outlets help steer it towards Blaming Republicans or Playing the Race card

Comment from M. Halliwell, (3/11/2016, 12:49 PM)

Unfortunately, as with lead in paint, asbestos as fireproofing and PCB's for transformers, as we learn more about chemicals and their effects, what is acceptable changes. I'm sure that the lead pipes in Flint were up to the building code when they were installed...but things change. In this case, a change in water supply source and the resulting pH changes highlighted part of the reason why lead pipes are no longer acceptable under the building code. The pipes in the house and from the house to the distribution pipe are typically the landowner's responsibility....but with how prone to litigation things are in the USA, you can bet that if they were left with the bill, there would be a class action lawsuit against various levels of government for allowing the lead pipes in the building code in the first place (just like the asbestos lawsuits now). Mark is is a case of "everyone and nobody" being responsible...but hopefully everyone can come together and fix the issue now that it has become a problem.

Comment from Mark Anater, (3/14/2016, 8:38 AM)

There is a rule called "sovereign immunity," under which government officials and agencies cannot be sued for doing their jobs. It's necessary to have this rule. Otherwise anyone who doesn't like a particular law or regulation could sue to block it, tying up every government action indefinitely. Officials have to make calls on priorities and deferments every day. That's what they were elected to do. When something like lead water pipes aren't causing immediate problems, letting them go unattended is not going to outrage anyone. Throwing the bill for this mess at the DNC is not only not legal, it's unwise. If you think only Democrats are to blame, remember that hundreds of other cities and towns, some Republican controlled, have lead pipes as well. The better solution is to pay closer attention to infrastructure and be proactive on problems. That requires vigilance from the public as well as government, but as we've seen in Flint, that can be a tall order.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/14/2016, 8:47 AM)

Billy - there are plenty of Republican controlled towns with lead pipes. It was a Republican who put the incompetent in charge who poisoned the town. The decline of Flint (and having no money for infrastructure) can be pretty reliably blamed on offshoring/free trade. Plenty of blame to go around. "The DNC" has never been in charge of Flint, neither has the RNC. Mark - I continue to think that when there is an egregious failure in governance (for example, people die) - we need a mechanism for accountability, not just saying "Okay, my idiocy killed people, but I have sovereign immunity!"

Comment from Mark Anater, (3/14/2016, 3:07 PM)

Officials and agencies can be sued for malfeasance or removed for corruption, but not if they simply do their jobs, however competently or not. Second guessing decisions is easy, but how do you assign blame for a lead pipe that was installed 84 years ago, and presented no danger until an unelected official appointed by the governor decided to switch water sources without making provisions for proper treatment? Who goes to jail? Who pays the medical bills? Flint's public officials were held accountable by being bypassed in favor of an appointee, essentially stripped of their authority. Since Flint is in receivership, it seems the state will be the one to pay. You may not think that's fair, but nothing about this situation is fair.

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/14/2016, 9:52 PM)

Building codes in the Deep south require updated plumbingin older neighborhoods City engineering firm on retainer Knows, people are responsible that were in public positions Professional Negligence, those people were ignored test were taken results came back hot, the red flags are all over this stop the excuses start getting results.

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (3/15/2016, 8:46 AM)

As an assumption, if Flint was a corporation, and it made bad decisions and as a consequence, its employees and the public were being poisoned by their decisions, then they would be breaking all sorts of laws. Epa, osha, and 20 other agencies would landing on the corporation as vultures on road kill. There would be no excuses accepted. Every business owner is expected to know every law and mandate on the books and off the books. Yet as Mark Anatar says, they were simply doing their job, competently or not. They would be fined and in prison. Why not have equal application of the laws? Where is the sovereign immunity to ignorance and bad decisions. Apparently the lead containing pipes installed 84 years ago was not a problem until the water source was changed. But for the water source changed, the problem was created.

Comment from Andrew Piedl, (3/29/2016, 6:12 PM)

Reading some of these comments makes me wonder if lead poisoning is a much more pervasive problem than previously suspected.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/4/2016, 4:11 PM)

Andrew - it's certainly a lot more pervasive than the public thinks it is. Brass fixtures (unless very recent) contain too much lead. Much solder contains too much lead. Older houses, soil near older roads (leaded gasoline) - et cetera. Jerry - Flint didn't make the bad call. The guy appointed by the State of Michigan did.

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