FLINT, Michigan—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the City of Flint celebrated recent progress being made to improve and safeguard the quality of drinking water in Flint. Regional Administrator Kurt Thiede also announced a new partnership to train local high school graduates for careers in the water sector workforce.
“Thanks to years of hard work, Flint’s water infrastructure has greatly improved,” said Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede. “The important steps that Flint is taking will make the city a model for other communities on how to safeguard residents from lead exposure.”
“Partnerships are key to building a better, stronger community. Working with the EPA and our other partners, we will continue moving this community forward,” said Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley. “We still have work to do, but we are proud of the progress we are making on behalf of the residents of Flint.”
Over the past four years, EPA has worked hand in hand with the city to make tremendous improvements for drinking water quality. Specific efforts include:
• Using funding from a $100 million grant provided through the federal Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, the city has been rapidly replacing lead and galvanized service lines throughout the city. More than 26,000 excavations were completed, resulting in the identification and replacement of over 9,700 lead service lines. Fewer than 500 service lines are left to be checked.
• In September, the city completed a landmark study on optimal corrosion control dosages for use in the drinking water distribution system. This study provides important insight to protect and prevent lead from entering the water.
• Under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, every six months the city is required to sample the drinking water of 60 homes for lead, including from homes with lead service lines. As more and more lead service lines are removed from the city, this has become difficult, but with technical assistance from EPA, the city is ahead of schedule and expects to complete this testing soon.
• The city and state recently finalized a “technical, managerial and financial capacity” agreement, which documents the city’s plan to continue to meet all Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.
• In the past year, important progress has been made on a number of infrastructure improvement projects that had been previously delayed. Construction has started on the city’s backup water source, which will provide additional reliability for the system. The city expects to complete the backup water source pipeline in May 2021. Construction also has started on a new chemical feed building, which is planned for completion in November 2021.
Additionally, like many water utilities across the country, Flint has struggled to attract the skilled workers needed to keep the water system operating. To address this issue, EPA, the City of Flint, and Delta College developed a program to train Flint high school students to work in this important field.
“Delta College will introduce students to this important and rewarding career opportunity, giving them a clear path to earn a degree in this field and potentially pursue a long-term career at the Flint Public Water System,” said Dr. Jean Goodnow, president of Delta College. “We’re pleased to be involved in this partnership because Delta is one of the few colleges in Michigan to offer a two-year program focused on providing the education and training necessary to work at a public water or wastewater treatment facility.”
EPA has prioritized addressing lead in communities across the nation including: $40 million grant funding under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act’s Reduction in Lead Exposure via Drinking Water, which included $10.7 million for the replacement of lead service lines in Grand Rapids and Benton Harbor, Michigan; implementing an Executive Order on “Modernizing America’s Water Resource Management and Water Infrastructure;” and is working to update the existing Lead and Copper Rule for the first time in nearly three decades to better protect families from lead in drinking water.
In 2016, EPA issued an emergency order to guide the response to the Flint water crisis and high levels of lead in the City’s water system. Almost all the order’s requirements have been accomplished, and once construction of the backup water supply is completed next year, the order can be officially lifted.
While the City of Flint has not had an exceedance of the Lead and Copper Rule’s action level (15 ppb) in the last four years, out of an abundance of caution related to construction continuing across the city that can temporarily elevate lead entering the drinking water, EPA continues to recommend residents use certified drinking-water filters at this time.
In addition to the coordination with Delta College to address water workforce challenges in Flint, EPA is taking actions to address these challenges across the nation. Specifically, on October 5, 2020 EPA released America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative.
Working with federal agencies and state, local, and tribal partners, America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative highlights the vital work of the water workforce and will serve as a catalyst to encourage the choice of water careers through education and public outreach. The Initiative reflects the Trump EPA’s commitment to ensure that our water workforce is prepared to help meet 21st century water demands while operating and maintaining our nation’s critical water infrastructure investments. The Initiative includes three goals:
Currently, water utilities face challenges in recruiting, training, and retaining employees. These challenges are exacerbated with roughly one-third of the water sector workforce eligible to retire in the next 10 years. Additionally, as the technologies that are used in the water sector become more advanced (e.g., state of the art water reuse technology), there is a growing need to train and employ water protection specialists with specialized technical skills.
A copy of the Initiative can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-11/documents/americas_water_sector_workforce_initative_final.pdf.
This report information was submitted by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
IMAGE: EPA Regional Administrator Kurt Thiede (far left) and Mayor Sheldon Neeley tour the Flint Water Treatment Plant during an EPA visit in July.