Flint Chooses Copper to Solve Drinking Water Infrastructure Crisis

Replacing lead water pipes with copper piping between the street and homes in Flint, Michigan October 28, 2016. (John M. Galloway)
08 Mar 2017

When the 2017 FAST Start program kicks off again next month, the City of Flint will continue the job of replacing nearly 5,000 more lead and galvanized service lines throughout the community – and it will do so with copper.

Mayor's speechThe decision to choose copper piping over plastic was announced yesterday by Mayor Karen Weaver and General Michael McDaniel, the coordinator of the FAST Start Program, during the Flint Water Infrastructure Summit.

“Copper piping is the best material to use for the service lines because it’s long lasting and impermeable, so contaminants can’t get into our drinking water,” said Weaver to a room of nearly 350 who attended the 3-day conference in the city.

Municipal and water utility officials from across the state and beyond, trade organizations, government agencies, experts and academia gathered in Flint to discuss the nation’s aging water infrastructure issues, share lessons learned and examine new technologies that are available, which can provide sustainable and affordable approaches. The conference was held by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Flint.

While federal and state funding have been secured over the last year to begin to alleviate Flint from its man-made water crisis, more recovery assistance is needed to replace all of the lead-tainted service lines still buried underground.

Water plant in Flint, Michigan October 28, 2016. (John M. Galloway)

“We’re grateful for the ways the state has stepped up in the past year to help Flint and its residents,” Weaver continued. “But so much remains to be done.”

In order to complete the lead replacement project by the end of 2019, officials have said it will take nearly $70 million, an enormous sum that most likely will also require the private sector to do its part to keep the cost from being passed onto the residents.

McDaniel sought the help of Mackenzie L. Davis, Michigan State University emeritus professor of environmental engineering, whose research concluded that copper was the best material.  Along with copper’s reliability, impermeability and longevity, copper provides the best value over its lifetime to meet the city’s overall infrastructure needs.

FAV-KellenCDA113In addition to providing Flint with educational resources and technical experts, the Copper Development Association (CDA) has helped the city source nearly 200,000 feet of copper material that will ultimately be used for the next phase. CDA’s assistance will save the city and state potentially $1 million.

Not only does copper have a long history of safely conveying drinking water, but nearly 80 percent of all utilities choose this material for their service line needs. With copper, the city of Flint can rest assured that they’re getting a durable, reliable, long-term solution for their drinking water infrastructure needs.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, the Summit’s Day 1 keynote speaker, urged the people in the room to use this conference as a place of innovation.

“Flint is not alone in regards to its aging infrastructure,” said Snyder.  “This is not a national issue; it’s an international issue.”

It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 underground lead service lines in Flint.

“Our work is not done by any means,” added Snyder.  “We’re looking to see how we can make Flint better for the next 30 to 50 years.  A crisis happened here and it wasn’t right.  But let’s learn from that and make Flint a better place.”

Andy talking to attendees 3_3.7CDA is not only committed to helping the city of Flint, but others cities in similar situations to rebuild their aging water distribution systems by providing assistance with proper design, installation and operation.

Summit attendees also heard from speakers from the EPA, AWWA and others, and had a chance to visit the exhibit area that had more than two dozen vendors involved in water quality issues.

For more information, visit www.copperservicelines.org.

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