US Water Industry Faces Tide of Scrutiny After Flint Scandal

Photo: Michigan Municipal League via Flickr Creative Commons

In a Congressional hearing this week, US lawmakers began to untangle how drinking water laced with high levels of lead was supplied for more than a year to citizens in Flint, Michigan.

The crisis, one of the most acute threats to public health the US has faced in decades, is also the focus of a federal investigation involving the FBI, a state probe, and lawsuits brought by citizen and environmental groups. All are demanding answers to the same question: what went wrong in Flint, and could it happen in other cities across the country?
The answer is yes, according to water experts. Much of the nation’s water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. Landmark laws meant to protect the surface and groundwater reserves that supply US cities are outdated and insufficient to address new threats to water quality. In addition, climate change and population growth are putting pressure on traditional methods of water management.

In Flint, the story comes down to a potent mix of ageing water pipes and government incompetence. Up until the crisis, Flint’s narrative had followed the arc of the  once-mighty industrial towns in America’s northern Rust Belt. Its heyday was  in the mid-20th century as a bastion of Michigan’s auto industry, but its population has declined by half since 1960, and for much of the past decade the city’s public administration has been drowning in debt.

Problems with the city’s water began in April 2014, when Flint switched water sources from its longtime supplier, the Detroit water system, and began taking water from the local Flint River in an effort to save US$5 million. But a failure to implement proper corrosion control measures when treating the river water left ageing lead service lines vulnerable to deterioration, leaching lead into the system.

This story originally appeared on chinadialogue. Read the full article here.