The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has been going around in circles over the past years.
Too much information has been released, the numbers have become so overwhelming, and the issues just keep on coming. Saying that the Flint water crisis is a hullabaloo is an understatement.
Finally, on Friday, the city was able to take the first major step to mitigate the problem: removing the first lead water service line under Mayor Karen Weaver's FAST Start Program.
The program aims to eliminate all lead water lines, which have been plaguing residents and keeping them from drinking fresh tap water.
Flint is a city situated about 70 miles north of Detroit. The city has about 99,002 residents, of which 41. 6 percent are considered to be below the poverty line.
While the median household income in Michigan is about $49,087, the rate in Flint is only approximately $24,679.
More than half of Flint residents are African-Americans, with a population rate of 56.6 percent.
The Start Of Lead Problems
In 2007, the city prepared to make the big switch from Detroit to Flint River to be its backup water supplier, despite concerns about sewage and industrial spills. The main reason for this change is to save money and eventually look at joining a corporation that would have its own pipeline to the lake.
In 2011, the state of Michigan took charge of the city's finances after an audit revealed that the city has a deficit amounting to about $25 million. Although the funds allocated for water supply was $9 million, authorities used some of these money to deal with deficits in the general fund.
In April 2013, state treasurer Andrew Dillon gave the green light to make the switch. However, the changeover did not happen until April 2014.
In August 2014, complaints about water contamination with lead, coliform bacteria and other substances started pouring in.
Turns out, the corrosive water from the river scraped lead from the old pipes. Some children showed increased levels of lead in their blood and the change in water system became the primary culprit. Such events even urged Governor Rick Snyder to seek for expanded Medicaid coverage for the victims.
According to a report by the state auditor general, the staff of the Department of Environmental Quality was not able to release a city order to treat its water with anti-corrosives as it switched to Flint River. The report also states that even if they have initiated the said rules, it may not be enough to protect the residents.
Number Of Lead Lines
The person tasked to oversee the FAST Start program is retired National Guard Brigadier General Michael McDaniel. He said that as far as they know, there are about 5,000 lead lines that need to be removed.
Because the city records are not sufficient, this number is said to be the minimum number of lead lines. This means there could be more, much more.
"Some sources estimate over 6 million lead service lines exist across the U.S.," says credit ratings and research firm Fitch Ratings. Majority of these areas are in the Northeast, Midwest and older urban locations.
Number Of Lead Lines To Be Removed In The Upcoming Weeks
Flint is looking forward to having 30 homes serviced and their lead lines replaced in the coming weeks.
McDaniel says the initial replacement of the lines this week was just the beginning. The team will prioritize homes with apparent lead problems and those that have occupants who are vulnerable. These people include children, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems.
FAST Start Program Funds: How Much Is Needed?
Weaver said she is looking to collect $55 million to complete the FAST Start Program.
As of the moment, they were able to begin the program with $2 million, which came from the state of Michigan. The said money was repaid to the city after it was used as payment for services needed to reconnect Flint's water supply to the Detroit system.
The rest of the needed money may be obtained from state's so-called "rainy day" fund.
Nationwide Funds Needed
Fitch estimates that the capital expenses to replace the estimated 6 million lines in the entire country would be $275 billion.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that water structure improvement up until the year 2030 would entail about $385 million in funds. Such amount only includes partial replacements.
Fitch says these costs are achievable, provided that there would be adequate time for collection. However, if the program needs faster implementation, then it could cause financial distress for a couple of water utilities. Ultimately, this stress may be passed on to consumers, which will spell greater problems.