EPA orders 3-month test for new Flint water

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Flint will have to treat and test drinking water from a new Lake Huron pipeline for at least three months before providing it to residents under a revised emergency order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Laborers work on inserting a 50 foot section of the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline near Oregon Twp. on March 17, 2016.

The federal agency on Friday ordered the city to submit a “new water source treatment plan” to state and federal regulators within the next three weeks outlining steps it will take to complete its pending connection to the Karegnondi Water Authority.

The plans, including a timeline for permit applications and contract approvals, would be posted online for public review.

Once the new pipeline is connected to Flint’s water treatment plant, the city and state would have to complete a three-month demonstration period to show the water is safe before flipping the switch and sending it to residents, according to the EPA.

“Given the harmful effects of the source water switch in April of 2014, it is critical that any future changes in source water for the city be properly planned,” EPA Region 5 Administrator Robert Kaplan said in a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.

“The city and state must thoroughly analyze and plan for all of the components needed to successfully accomplish a change in source water and keep all parties, including the public, well informed throughout the transition process.”

Flint is hoping to begin delivering KWA water in October 2017, and the testing period would need to be completed by that time for plans to proceed. The city would also need to complete construction of a nearly three-mile line connecting its water plant to the regional pipeline.

Flint has used Detroit system water since October 2015, when state officials confirmed independent findings of elevated lead levels in the municipal water supply and the blood of Flint children. The city, operating under a state-appointed emergency manger, had switched to Flint River water in April 2014.

The revised federal order will require Flint to continue using Detroit water until its transition to a new source is complete.

By February, the city and state will have to submit planned improvements to the Flint water plant and develop a corrosion control study for treatment of the new KWA water. By March, the city will have to specify scheduling plans to finalize water treatment plant processes.

Friday’s action by the EPA is the first major amendment to an emergency order issued in January after it determined state and city efforts were insufficient to address “imminent and substantial endangerment” in Flint.

The initial order required the city to submit a written plan demonstrating technical, managerial and financial capacity needed to operate its own water treatment plant in compliance with federal standards.

Months of planning by city, state and federal officials allowed the agency to build “a more specific order” tailored to the expected switch to KWA, according to the EPA.

The bulk of the order remains unchanged. The federal agency continues to impose more than a dozen other requirements on the city and state, including public documentation of sampling results and status reports on Flint’s water quality.

The EPA had the authority and information necessary to force corrective action more than seven months before it issued the original order in January, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General said last month.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality failed to require adequate corrosion control chemicals when Flint began tapping its river. The harsh water damaged aging pipes and leached lead into the water.

Recent water testing has shown significant signs of improvement in Flint, but officials continue to advise residents against drinking tap water without a filter.