Flint’s drinking water problem could happen elsewhere

How to avoid drinking water problems in your city

In recent months, tests on the water system in Flint, Michigan, revealed high levels of lead and damage to potable water infrastructure due to a failure to implement corrosion control treatment. It’s a series of events that, arguably, was completely avoidable with the right decisions from the right people.

It all began after the city stopped buying treated Lake Huron water from the City of Detroit, and began treating and distributing water from the Flint River. Almost immediately, Flint citizens perceived their water was contaminated.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, responsible for ensuring that Flint’s water met federal standards, violated federal regulation when it did not require the City of Flint to properly treat the highly corrosive water to minimize leaching from lead pipes.

Over the past year, residents gathered 861 water samples for analysis for testing by students and research scientists at Virginia Tech. Tests indicated average lead levels of over 2,000 parts per billion (ppb). This is more than 130 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) maximum allowable limit of 15 parts per billion, the equivalent of 2.5 tablespoons in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The Flint situation led to a national debate on the definition of “safe” drinking water in America, since regulating drinking water has become extremely complex. There are now more than 150,000 public water utilities in the U.S. The EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations covers more than 80 contaminants, and the EPA is determining whether roughly a hundred others should also be regulated.

In our region, we have an underground collection of different types of pipes – some of which are lead. Although lead pipes were banned by Congress nationwide in 1986, they still run water from mains under the streets into the plumbing inside older homes.

In other words, under the wrong circumstances, lead pipes can make our water unfit to drink, just like they did in Flint. This is why it’s important to diligently test your water and continually evaluate your city’s needs.

Moore Engineering has helped several communities upgrade, update and develop water systems and treatment plants. In Beulah, North Dakota, for example, the water treatment plant hadn’t had major facility upgrades in over 30 years. They were experiencing frequent equipment failures and high maintenance costs.

Moore Engineering reviewed the city’s raw water quality, the capacity of the wells and the projected water needs for the future. We evaluated the city’s water treatment plant processes and equipment for condition and capacity to be sure the water quality was in compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for current and future regulations. Moore provided two options to the city, and they chose to upgrade their water treatment plant to a membrane softening system.

Oakes, North Dakota, is another example. The EPA notified the city that its water source no longer complied with the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of arsenic for drinking water. Moore Engineering evaluated the existing water quality to determine necessary treatment processes, weighing factors like initial cost, maintenance cost, life expectancy, future expansion, future MCL changes by the EPA, ease of operation and reliability.

We recommended they construct a new water treatment plant to supply safe water to the community. The new plant is now operational and meets EPA contaminant standards.

These are just two examples of communities making clean and safe drinking water a priority. We all know that clean drinking water is essential in any community. Investing in efficient and sufficient water facilities sustains communities and allows them to thrive.

We’d love to hear about the water and wastewater challenges your community faces. Call us today and we’ll talk.

Project profiles and updates on where the projects are at can be found in the “our work”and “current projects” section of our website.