The long journey to restore safe water to the city of Flint, Michigan has finally begun: The first lead service line was swapped with copper pipe today. Following a press conference at the residential site, a lead pipe was excavated and replaced by workers, who were easily outnumbered three-to-one by members of the media.
Assisting the city of Flint are crews from the US National Guard, as well as engineers from the nearby city of Lansing, which is currently replacing about 13,500 lead lines. Lansing's Board of Water and Light commented recently that a line can be replaced by two or three workers in a single day for about $US2000. Some people can't wait and are paying for their own replacements.
— Kyle Feldscher (@Kyle_Feldscher) March 4, 2016
Although the work can be performed quickly and relatively cheaply, there is not enough funding at the moment to fix all Flint's pipes. A promised $US55 million is supposedly coming from the state of Michigan and federal aid, but so far the state has only allocated $US2 million. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is also working on his own independent study of local infrastructure.
The "Fast Start" pipe replacement announced by Mayor Karen Weaver about a month ago prioritises neighbourhoods with the highest rate of children under six, retirees and pregnant women — all of whom are most susceptible to the effect of lead.
But one of the biggest problems the city is running into is knowing which lines have to be replaced, according to the Wall Street Journal:
There are more than 8,000 lead service lines in Flint, a city of nearly 100,000 people, according to a study released last month by a University of Michigan professor. But the city's records are spotty, and the locations of only 4,376 are known. Lead pipes that likely exist on blocks with others will have to be identified before they can be removed.
Weaver said earlier that she expected the work to be completed within a year. Let's hope that's the case, and Flint's 100,000 residents can go back to a relatively normal way of life.
Top image: The first pipe is replaced. Photos by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images