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EPA official praises upgrades to Flint's water system

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A top Environmental Protection Agency official is praising the work done in recent years to upgrade Flint’s water system.

Between 2014 and 2015, improperly treated river water damaged pipes, releasing lead and other contaminants into Flint's drinking water. The Flint water crisis highlighted the need to repair and renovate the nation's aging water infrastructure.

Debra Shore is the EPA's Region 5 administrator, covering a collection of Midwestern states including Michigan. She toured part of Flint’s water plant Tuesday.

Shore said the upgrade, including a new secondary water source, helped shield Flint from the effects of a massive water transmission line break in southeast Michigan this month.

“Just a few years ago this back-up water supply didn’t exist,” said Shore, “Flint residents would have been in a whole lot of hurt and experiencing a boil order as many other communities have.”

Mike Brown, Flint’s public works director, said about $130 million has been spent on Flint's water infrastructure since the water crisis contaminated the city's drinking water.

“It’s hard to think now, with all the work that we’ve done in the last few years, what would have happened if we didn’t have what we have, and where would the city of Flint be. I wouldn’t want to think about that,” said Brown.

Flint officials said the city switched to its secondary water source, the Genesee County Drain Commission, soon after the Great Lakes Water Authority identified the break in a 120-inch pipeline on August 13. Many communities were placed under boil water advisories after the break. Flint will likely remain on its secondary water source until sometime next month when the water authority has finished repairs and testing on the damaged transmission line.

The timetable for those repairs may be extended.

The water authority said Tuesday that the 48-feet of 120-inch pipe it ordered to replace the damaged transmission line expected to be delivered Tuesday has been delayed.

Shore, the EPA regional administrator, is scheduled to be in Washtenaw County on Wednesday.

She's scheduled to tour several key environmental sites, including the McLouth Steel Superfund site, Arkema remediation site, Ann Arbor Water Treatment Facility, and National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory. The EPA said she'll discuss priorities including concerns about contaminated water released by chemical company BASF, safe restoration of former industrial sites, and carbon emissions.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public 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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