Flint must wait to tap Karegnondi pipeline

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News
A laborer carries a beam at the construction site of the new Karegnondi Water Authority  treatment plant.

The long-awaited Karegnondi Water Authority will go online this summer, but Flint residents likely won’t see a drop from it this year.

That’s because the city needs to meet testing criteria established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before it can connect to the regional system that will draw water from Lake Huron.

As a result, Flint is working to continue purchasing water from the Detroit system.

EPA officials laid out that criteria in an emergency administrative order issued Jan. 21. Specifically, that order required: “implementation of a ‘performance period’ that allows for the demonstration of the adequacy of treatment of the new water source to meet all (National Primary Drinking Water Regulations) before it can be distributed to residents.”

Weather permitting, KWA will come online in late June or early July and roughly $15 million under its projected cost of $300 million, according to authority officials.

Flint will still be required to conduct months of testing to meet the “performance period” criteria. That will require the installation of a new line to test the city’s treatment process of the raw Lake Huron water from KWA, while drinking water continues to be provided to residents by the Great Lakes Water Authority, which oversees the Detroit water system.

“Most likely Flint will not switch to KWA this year,” Mike Glasgow, Flint’s utilities administrator, told The News this week.

“This has been delayed since the pipe that is currently supplying GLWA water to the city was originally going to be utilized to supply the city's water treatment plant with KWA water. Now an additional 3-mile section of pipe must be designed and put in place in order to supply the city treatment plant with KWA water.

“The city is exploring financing options for the extra months of purchasing GLWA water with assistance from the state.”

Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget includes $5.4 million to pay for Flint to stay on the GLWA until December or until the KWA water system is in use, his office said. It awaits approval from the Legislature.

“In addition, funding will be used to support staff, local health department contracts, testing and lab equipment to ensure water safety of the city,” said Anna Heaton, deputy press secretary to Snyder, in an email to The News.

So how long before Flint can begin using KWA water? EPA officials this week said there is not a specific timeline in place, only steps that must be taken to ensure the city can provide safe drinking water.

“The federal government is meeting with the city and the state, at a minimum, on a weekly basis just to make sure all of these things are effectuated,” said Mark Pollins, director of EPA’s Water Enforcement Division.

In addition to being able to show the capability of properly treating water over time, Flint will also have to demonstrate the “technical, managerial and financial capacity to meet (the Safe Drinking Water Act’s) applicable requirements.” That means getting enough staff trained and certified to operate the water treatment plant.

In February, EPA officials sent Flint a laundry list of items the city had failed to address.

“Respondents have submitted a list of staff, but have not adequately demonstrated that the city has the necessary, capable and qualified personnel required to perform the duties and obligations required to ensure the public water system complies with the Safe Water Drinking Act,” EPA officials wrote.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver also addressed the lack of qualified staff in a letter to the EPA last week.

“Currently, the city is in the process of scheduling interviews for the position of director of public works,” she wrote. “An additional (water treatment) licensed individual has been hired as a water plant supervisor, with an anticipated start date later this month.

“Next week, a number of job openings will be posted at both the water treatment plant and water distribution system to fill current vacancies.

“It is anticipated that this will allow the city to fill four water plant operator (positions) by early April, ten water distribution system operators by early June and two lab technicians by early June.”

The release of government emails over the past two months has made it clear Flint’s water treatment system was not ready to handle full-time operation when the city began drawing water from its river in April 2014.

One of those emails was sent by Glasgow just days before operations began.

“I was reluctant before, but after looking at the monitoring schedule and our current staffing, I do not anticipate giving the OK to begin sending water out anytime soon,” he wrote.

“If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple weeks, it will be against my direction. I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before I will feel we are ready. I will reiterate this to management above me, but they seem to have their own agenda.”


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