Understanding the Difficulty of Resolving the Flint Water Crisis

Today's post is authored by MedEq's Editor, Mohammed Turfe.

For the past couple of Environmental blog posts, I have righteously focused on the Flint Water Crisis and the dramatic aftermath. Labeled as one of the monumental public health crisis in the 21st century, the Flint Water Crisis is leaving it’s citizens without direct access to mankind’s greatest necessity. At least 15% of Flint residents have corrosive water that exceed the federal standard for lead concentrations, some house even exceeded the maximum by 900X. 

Thanks to a collaborative and warm-hearted effort by millions of community members from across the globe, millions of water bottles, filters, and other essentials are being distributed to those who need it most. With this being said however, this is merely a short-term patch to a long term conundrum. Flint citizens are no longer able to take hot showers and use bottled water to bathe. For this crisis to finally be resolved, the corrosive pipes that Flint’s water flows through need to be replaced. 

Accomplishing this monumental feat however, is expensive, laborious, and fairly complicated. This may explain why these pipes weren't replaced in the first place. Governor Rick Snyder had estimated that it will cost $60 million to replace the 20,000-25,000 pipes that are an inch in diameter. In order to access the pipes however, workers need to dig 3.5 feet below the ground. If the pipes were any higher, they would freeze underground. Martin Kaufman, a geographer at the University of Michigan-Flint, as interviewed by Nick Stockton from wired.com, explains the intricate process:

Replacing a typical service line takes three people. “You need an operator to run the equipment, one guy hand digging to make sure you don’t get into any other utilities, and another guy getting the floor busted out in the basement,” says Harrington. As long as they don’t run into any problems, the whole job should take the team about half a day. Harrington estimates that he could reasonably call in about 20 such teams to work full time until the job is done. Assuming the rate is forty pipes a day, roughly 249 days a year (nights and weekends, y’all), the Flint plumber’s militia could bang the job out in just over two years.

Harrington says digging up and replacing a forty foot length of lead pipe costs around $3,000. This does not take into account externalities like repaving streets and sidewalks, fixing any damage done to the home, and resodding lawns. Multiply $3,000 by 20,000 pipes and you get $60 million dollars—which suggests that the figure quoted in Michigan governor Snyder’s email is probably a lowball.

Replacing the pipes in Flint is no joke. The ground needs to be broken for this project and Flint’s citizens need the clean water they deserve. Political decisions may have caused this problem in the first place, but the same politicians are more than capable of resolving it, or at least they better because their job is on the line. 


Stockton, Nick. "Here’s How Hard It Will Be to Unpoison Flint’s Water." Wired.com. 29 Jan. 2016. Web.

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