Report: Replacing Flint’s faulty water lines costs $80M

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Flint has infrastructure from water line replacement to dam removal that could cost the industrial city more than $200 million over several years, new reports show.

Replacing lead and galvanized steel water lines alone — the core of solving Flint’s lead-contaminated water woes — looks as though it would cost roughly $80 million over the next five years, according to Rowe Professional Services. But replacing them could take as long as eight years, according to the Rowe report.

The $80 million estimate is a far cry from the $25 million being bandied about in Lansing as a possible funding boost to Flint’s efforts. The projection was among the findings in a pair of reports completed at the request of the state of Michigan this year to gauge the scope of the issues facing Flint.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Snyder’s office did not respond to a request for comment regarding funding for water pipe replacement. But the department that is being blamed for helping cause the leaching pipes did weigh in.

“Flint’s challenges are its aging infrastructure, a shrinking population and the need to invest in their infrastructure like so many other cities,” said Keith Creagh, director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Records suggest the presence of 3,4000 lead service lines and 7,900 galvanized service lines, according to the report.

“Additionally there are no records for about 9,000 services,” the Rowe study reads. “If galvanized lead services are replaced, there may be 16,000 services or more to replace.

“If services are replaced at an average rate of at least 2,000 annually, eight years may be required to complete the replacement program.”

After a pilot program earlier this year replaced lead lines at more than 30 sites, several issues arose. State and local officials are planning their next steps in combatting lead contamination of municipal water. They include:

■Flint’s records on which lines are lead or copper are only 64 percent accurate.

■The average cost of replacing lead service lines was $7,500 per property.

■Crews can complete up to two replacements per day on easy to medium assignments, but landscaping and water main locations can slow that rate.

An additional issue uncovered by the pilot program is how sewer and water lines have often been installed in Flint. On many occasions, workers have found water lines located directly above sewer lines.

“This configuration provides the potential for damaging the sewer service pipe as the water service pipe is removed,” according to the Rowe report.

The studies compiled by Rowe will be used to help Flint apply for additional upgrade aid through the state’s revolving loan fund program.

On Tuesday, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who has pushed for expedited line replacement, spoke to the media about lingering problems in the city’s system. She pointed out that while the city’s population has “decreased drastically over the years, the city’s water system remains the same.”

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