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What 2016 taught us about removing lead pipes in Flint

Lead service line
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Flint's FAST Start program aims to remove 6,000 lead service lines in the coming year.

What can America learn from Flint's water disaster? That's the question at the heart of a national Water Infrastructure Conference starting today in Flint.

Retired National Guard Brigadier General Mike McDaniel is one of the speakers at the conference. He is director of Flint’s FAST Start program, which aims to remove all of the city’s lead service lines over the next few years.

McDaniel said the program removed 800 service lines in its first year of operation, reflecting a somewhat slower pace of removal than expected.

“We learned a lot in 2016, our first year of doing this,” McDaniel said. “I’d say our first concern, unexpected, was the quality of the city records. We knew that they were incomplete. They turned out to be about 63% accurate.”

With those surprises behind them, McDaniel said he's confident that they can pick up the pace of service line removals in 2017. The plan is to remove 6,000 service lines this year.

In total, there are about 19,000 service lines slated for removal over the next few years, although the program will need more money from the state and federal governments to complete the task.

With his remarks at the Water Infrastructure Conference, McDaniel hopes to share some of the lessons the FAST Start program has learned during its first year in operation. One of the biggest: The best time to avoid a water infrastructure crisis like Flint’s is before it happens.

“You’ve got to have that planning on the front end, that effective regulation of any sort of repairs that are done to systems, and keeping those records is just so important,” McDaniel said. “It’s that little stuff that city government needs to do to stave off these sorts of problems.”

Listen to our full interview with Mike McDaniel, director of Flint’s FAST Start program, above.

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