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Experts say Flint should return to Detroit water

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A panel of experts is recommending the city of Flint return to Detroit's water system.

As protesters marched outside Flint city hall chanting “lead free water,” inside local, state and national health and water experts agreed that change is needed. 

Since the city switched its drinking water source, from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River in April 2014, there have been problems. At first, people complained about the taste, smell and appearance of their tap water. Eventually, the water system had problems with levels of E. coli and chemicals.

Finally, this summer, tests started showing serious levels of lead in the drinking water. State and local groups have been handing out water filters and bottled water in recent weeks to people too scared to drink from their own kitchen faucets.    

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
An overflow crowd of Flint residents and journalists strained to listen to the highly technical discussion during the meeting

“We must stay focused on the people part of the answer,” says Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, the president of Mott Children’s Health Center and a member of the expert panel.    

Reynolds agreed with other committee members that Flint would be better off going back to Detroit water until a new water pipeline from Lake Huron is completed next year.

“I think we can feel that we’ve done it the right way,” says Croft, referring to the process of reviewing the scientific evidence to support a switch.

Croft says it would take about two weeks to physically start up the pipeline to Detroit. However, the process will surely take longer.

Croft says the next step is in the mayor’s and city administrator’s hands. 

Switching back to Detroit water won’t be cheap. City officials estimate the cost at more than $1 million a month. City leaders say they’ll need the state’s help to pay the cost of switching back. 

While the experts agreed switching back to Detroit water is the best option, they also agreed it’s not a cure-all.

“There are risks with an older infrastructure,” says Mayor Dayne Walling. “Even with a Detroit water source, even with corrosion control.”

Researchers from Virginia Tech say the corrosive nature of the Flint River has done extensive damage to Flint’s lead and iron pipes. Switching to a different water source will help lessen the presence of lead in the water, but it won’t eliminate it.   

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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