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 Landmark laws meant to protect the surface and groundwater reserves that supply US cities are outdated and insufficient to address new threats to water quality.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.

Seven Ohio Drinking Water Sources Don’t Meet State Water Quality Standards for Toxic Algae

Graphic © Codi Kozacek / Circle of Blue

Seven lakes, reservoirs and rivers that supply drinking water to approximately 1 million people in Ohio have repeatedly exceeded safe levels of a toxin that can cause sickness and liver damage, according to a state water quality report. The toxin, produced by algae, rendered the water undrinkable earlier this month for more than 400,000 people in the Toledo area.

The drinking water sources found to contain the toxin serve seven cities including Toledo, Akron and Lima. Though these cities have largely been able to treat the water to make it safe, the water plants in Toledo and Carroll Township—a small community in Ottawa County—have both been forced to issue “Do Not Drink” advisories in the past year.

In Grand Lake St. Marys, Ohio’s largest inland lake, toxin levels have been so high that people are advised not to swim in the water. The drinking water and beach warnings represent a danger to public health that has reemerged in the past decade after state, federal and international efforts largely ridded Lake Erie of toxic algae blooms in the 1980s. Treating the toxins are costing cities millions of dollars, while water shutoffs and unsightly blooms can hurt businesses from restaurants to charter boats.

The findings about the growing threat to Ohio’s drinking water safety were contained in a biennial assessment of water quality conducted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The assessment was released in February but attracted little attention until August 2 when Toledo issued a “Do Not Drink” advisory due to high levels of algae toxins in its treated water. Circle of Blue reviewed the draft report this week.

The assessment included algae toxins for the first time this year and listed the following drinking water sources as “impaired”, meaning levels of toxins were higher than the state’s threshold for safe drinking water at least two separate times in five years. The toxins were found in the water supplies before they were treated and used for drinking water. After being treated, the water from these sources was within safety limits.

This story originally appeared on Circle of Blue. Read the full article here.