City of Flint’s Lead Service Replacement Project Back on the FAST Start Track

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

By Michael C. McDaniel

Michael C. H. McDaniel-highresWhen Mayor Karen Weaver asked me in February 2016 to oversee her FAST Start initiative to replace all the lead-tainted service lines in Flint, it was an easy request to accept. An emergency manager’s decision to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014 without the necessary corrosion control chemicals being added resulted in the corrosive water removing a protective coating on the inside of the pipes, causing lead to leach into the drinking water. I wanted to do everything I could to help.

Getting the FAST Start initiative going, however, proved to be difficult. We were able to begin work on a very limited basis in March 2016, but it took nearly a year to get all the state and federal funds we needed so we could reach the point where we are now. The goal is to replace service lines leading to 6,000 homes this year and replace all the lead-tainted lines by the end of 2019.

FAV-KellenCDA153Since last year, crews have replaced lead or galvanized service lines leading from the water main to the water meters of more than 1,200 homes, and dug up another 322 lines that turned out to be copper (those lines didn’t have to be replaced). In the latest phase of the FAST Start initiative, which just got underway in April, crews have replaced service lines at 320 homes, while 74 more have been found to be copper. The four Flint-area contractors doing the work will be ramping up their pace in early June and are on track to soon begin replacing 900 lines a month.

While the level of lead in Flint’s water supply has been substantially reduced since the city switched back in 2015 to water delivered from Lake Huron by the Great Lakes Water Authority, residents are still being urged to drink only filtered water, and to replace their filters when needed. To be eligible to have their service lines replaced, residents must have an active water account. They also must have signed a consent card giving permission for the work to be done.

FAV-KellenCDA101The City of Flint’s building code requires that all new and/or replaced water service lines be copper, but we had additional reasons for choosing that material. Dr. Mackenzie L. Davis, emeritus professor of environmental engineering at Michigan State University, reviewed research conducted on copper pipes versus plastic ones and found that copper keeps outside contaminants from permeating into the water system and does so long-term at a reasonable cost.

That means outside chemicals such as petroleum products, insecticides and fertilizers can’t contaminate the water system. Plastic can’t make the same claims. Copper has a long history of safely conveying drinking water, which means we’re getting a proven, long-lasting solution.

As this year’s pipe replacement program ramps up, it will be copper piping that brings safe water to Flint residents. We’re determined through the FAST Start initiative to help Flint move beyond the drinking water crisis and into a brighter future.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Michael C.H. McDaniel is coordinator of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s FAST Start pipe replacement program and associate dean at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.


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