EPA Identifies 'Significant Challenges' to Long-Term Flint Water Quality

News & Politics

Flint faces significant “long-term challenges” that need to be tackled to assure safe drinking water, according to a strongly-worded memo from Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, delivered today to Gov. Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.

The letter states the city’s water system is too big for the demand, inadequately staffed, inadequately resourced, in need of professional expertise, and in need of a realistic financial plan in light of high water charges residents are shouldering.

Addressing those problems “goes well beyond the immediate crisis problems we have all been working so hard to address,” McCarthy states. But the “we” alters in the letter’s conclusion, which states while the EPA will continue to be involved, it is the city and the state who “must work more closely together to ensure a safe and sustainable water supply for Flint residents.”

While citing “hopeful and encouraging signs” and “positive trends on re-establishing coating on the pipes and recent water-quality sampling results,”  the EPA asserted there are five areas which must be addressed for long-term reliability and water quality.

First, McCarthy stated, the distribution system is “oversized for current and projected water demand,” resulting in water not moving through the system as originally designed.  This leads to water settling in pipes too long, potentially causing a loss of chlorine residual.  The recent flushing program in the city was a step in the right direction, McCarthy notes, but is not a long-term solution.

Second, the water treatment plant is “not adequately staffed, operated or administered,” the memo states, suggesting that the system needs “additional experienced and expert operators, standard operating procedures…and a formal preventative and corrective maintenance program.”

Third, McCarthy notes, Flint needs “a city administration that can provide stable, reliable and quick administrative support essential to a well-functioning drinking-water system,” adding that the drinking water system must be able to hire rapidly, get equipment quickly and obtain necessary resources” during emergencies.

Fourth, the drinking water system needs resources, with a long-term plan put into place for financial support for the system.  Acknowledging that Flint residents pay one of the highest water rates in the nations, McCarthy suggests that “a solid and realistic financial plan will be essential.”

Finally, as the city decides which source of drinking water it will use in the long term, McCarthy states,  the city  “must demonstrate that it has the technical, managerial and financial capacity to operate the system in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

East Village Magazine has requested responses from both Mayor Weaver’s office and from Richard Baird, Gov. Snyder’s “transformation manager” who has been managing the State’s response to the Flint water crisis.

The letter came as a follow-up summary following an EPA evaluation of the Flint surface water treatment plant conducted April 25-29.

The whole letter can be accessed at the EPA site here: EPA June 16 letter.

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