Michigan authorities unveiled a plan Tuesday to remove and replace lead-tainted pipes in Flint’s water distribution system amid a controversy over how elected officials could let city's water supply became contaminated. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver outlined a $55 million public works project, which could begin within a month and gives priority to high-risk households with pregnant women and children, the Detroit Free Press reported.
"In order for Flint residents to once again have confidence and trust in the water coming from their faucets, all lead pipes in the city of Flint need to be replaced," Weaver said in a news conference Tuesday. The plan would require collaboration between federal agencies and state officials, even though it’s the state that many have blamed for Flint’s water crisis.
“I'm asking Gov. [Rick] Snyder and the state to partner on this effort,” Weaver said. “We’ll let the investigations determine who’s to blame for Flint's water crisis, but I'm focused on solving it."
Weaver’s announcement came the same day that President Barack Obama asked Congress to increase federal spending next year for a fund that supports state-level drinking water infrastructure, the Detroit News reported. Obama was seeking an increase of $157 million, or 18 percent more than last year, to assist communities like Flint that are experiencing similar water contamination problems.
“We’re not only proposing a roughly 20 percent increase in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which is a key resource for communities like Flint to help rebuild infrastructure for drinking water, but we also have some more innovative proposals more broadly to improve water quality and deal with its long-term challenges,” a senior Obama administration official told the News.
Weaver last week called for the immediate removal of Flint’s pipes, after the mayor of nearby Lansing offered technical assistance from his city's own public utility authority. Under a program known as Fast Start, which requires coordination among city, state and federal officials, and funds approved by state and federal lawmakers, the pipe replacement project could be done in one year, according to retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel.
Flint's drinking water first became contaminated with lead in April 2014, when the financially ailing city changed its water source to the Flint River to save money. But without proper corrosion-control chemicals, typically required by the state's environmental agency, water from the new source caused lead to leach into the water supply. Residents in the mostly poor and black city of 100,000 complained that the water appeared brown in color and worried that children had been exposed to unsafe levels of lead at home and in their schools.
Recent revelations that Michigan’s governor knew about Flint’s water crisis and was slow to respond, while his administration looked for ways to minimize their liability, has outraged civil rights and social justice activists around the country. The ordeal has also prompted an investigation by the FBI.