Flint, MI– The City of Flint may begin “blending” water from the recently completed secondary pipeline with the water from the primary pipeline as early as this week.
During a special Flint City Council meeting on Aug. 13, the Director of the Department of Public Works Michael Brown said that if the bacterial tests come back perfect, the city may begin drawing water out of the secondary pipeline as early as Aug. 17.
This is happening for two reasons.
The first is because, as mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Flint needed to have a secondary water pipeline system to be used in case of an emergency.
According to Brown, the city completed construction of the secondary water pipeline, which connects to the Genesee County Drain Commission, “two to three weeks ago.” Now that it’s complete, it needs to be tested.
The second is that Flint’s primary water pipeline system, which is connected to the Great Lakes Water Authority, needs repairs. In order to complete the repairs on the GLWA pipeline, the city will need to be using the GCDC pipeline for water. Brown said the repairs are estimated to take about six weeks.
But it won’t be an abrupt switch to GCDC. For the first four weeks, the city will incrementally increase the flow of water from GCDC, with the current water from GLWA. For the first week it will be 5% GCDC, and 95% GLWA, with continual water quality monitoring taking place. Each week the percentage of GCDC will increase. So the second week it will be 25%, then 50%, then 75%, and eventually 100%.
According to a press release from the city sent out a few hours before the special city council meeting, safeguards “will be in place to initiate a full return to water from the current GLWA line within 24 hours in the event of an unanticipated water quality issue.”
Once 100% of the water is flowing through the secondary water pipeline, the repairs on the primary system’s valves will take place. According to the press release, the repairs will also include “automating and modernizing the primary water pipeline system equipment.”
Once the repairs are complete, Flint will once again get its water from the GLWA pipeline, although water will continually flow through the secondary pipeline to keep it fresh.
Councilwoman Monica Galloway and Councilman Eric Mays called the special council meeting to get answers about these changes, as there had been no announcement from the city prior to the special meeting being called.
“Whenever there’s an anticipated switch of the water source, based on what Flint’s gone through, we need notice, and we need it in a good amount of time,” Mays said. “My issue is that when the administration knows, the council and the public should know.”
The City of Flint administration made it clear in the meeting that the word “switch” is not to be used to describe what’s happening.
“There is no switch,” City Administrator Clyde Edwards said. “We’re gonna ramp up one, and ramp down the other.”
That said, Brown himself had a hard time explaining the process without the use of the word “switch.”
When Mays asked when the changes were going to take place, Brown asked him to clarify what he meant by asking: “Do you mean the first time that we start taking water from our secondary line or do you mean when we are going to switch over to the secondary line completely?”
After Mays pointed out that he just used the word “switch,” Brown apologized and said he didn’t mean to. But, he called it a switch multiple times throughout the meeting after that.
“At the beginning we’ll still be getting water from GLWA. When we get to the point where we are confident with our process, and with taking that water, the 5%, from our secondary source, then we will start switching over to make sure that we can take 100% from that source,” Brown said.
Mays called a point of order upon hearing that word again.
“Ain’t no way the mayor can make y’all say not switching. We’re switching to something,” Mays said.
The City of Flint is not switching its water source, which is Lake Huron. But the city will be temporarily and gradually changing the pipeline connection that the water comes through, from 100% GLWA to 100% GCDC, so call that what you will. Brown began calling it a “transition.”
Galloway was less concerned about the word, and more about the fact that residents need to be in the loop with these things.
“The residents just want to know with confidence that there is a plan,” Galloway said.
Brown said the project is expected to be completed by the first or second week of December, if the city gets the OK from EGLE and the EPA to begin using the secondary pipeline next week.
According to the press release from the city, residents will be notified of the connection date.
Monitoring results are posted on the EPA’s “Taking Action on Flint Water” website at www.michigan.gov/flintwater. Infrastructure project updates can also be found on the City of Flint’s “Progress Report on Flint Water” webpage at www.cityofflint.com/progressreport.