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New tool speeding up Flint's pipe replacement program

Samples of various drinking water pipes.
Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio
Samples of various drinking water pipes.

Flint’s problem water pipe records are forcing the city to rely more on a special tool to determine if homes are using lead or copper service lines.

Digging a hole with a backhoe to see if the pipe connecting homes to city water mains is slow and expensive. It's not something a city like Flint, which is replacing thousands of suspect service lines, has time or money to do.

So starting this month, the city is turning to a tool that uses high-pressure water to bore a hole.   Hydrovacing is faster and cheaper. The plan had been to hydrovac properties known not to have copper lines.

But Mike McDaniel, the man heading Flint’s pipe replacement project, says shoddy city records mean they’ll have to check maybe an additional 1200 pipes.

“We’re constantly evolving,” says McDaniel, “(We) should have done more from the outset. But again contingencies came up that we weren’t aware of,  I don’t know anybody would have been aware of, so we have to adapt to those.”

Federal funds are paying for the hydrovacing.

The city of Flint ison track to replace 6,000 lead and galvanized services linesthis year. The lead and galvanized steel pipes are a prime source of lead particles that have leached into the city’s drinking water supply during the past few years.   

Flint’s tap water is being treated with additional anti-corrosion chemicals to reduce the problem and tests have shown a reduction in lead in the water. 

But damage done to the aging lead and galvanized service lines during the time the city drew its drinking water from the Flint River is prompting the city to remove all the suspect lines.   

The plan is for crews to remove and replace 6,000 service lines a year for the next three years.  

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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