Michigan, Flint Reach Settlement to Replace Lead Pipes

The state of Michigan and the city of Flint have reached a settlement in the dispute over lead in the drinking water. The settlement requires the state to pay $100 million to replace thousands of lead pipes throughout the city and keep distributing bottled water until that job is finished.

FlintWater

Michigan and the city of Flint have agreed to spend the next several years replacing roughly 18,000 aging underground pipes as part of a far-reaching legal settlement over the city’s ongoing crisis involving lead-tainted water.

A proposed settlement filed Monday will require the state to fund Flint’s efforts to replace the lead and galvanized water service lines by 2020. Under the agreement, the state will agree to pay $87 million for the undertaking and will keep another $10 million in reserve in case more pipes than expected need replacing. About $30 million of that money will come from the $100 million that Congress approved late last year in aid to Flint. The state will be responsible for the remainder…

Under the terms of the deal, state officials also must continue to deliver bottled water to housebound residents and must continue to operate free bottled water distribution centers around the city through early September, though it could begin to phase out some sites after May 1 if demand fades. The state also will continue to go door to door in the city through December 2018 to make sure people have properly installed water filters and to provide new filters and replacement cartridges.

The agreement comes barely a week after the Environmental Protection Agency formally awarded a $100 million grant to the state — money allocated by Congress — to fund upgrades to Flint’s outdated water system. While a portion of that money will go to ripping out old pipes that contributed to the city’s lead crisis, Flint also intends to spend a large portion of the grant money modernizing its water treatment plant, replacing meters and fixing distribution mains.

The settlement still needs to be approved by the federal judge presiding in the case. This sounds like a good start, but we need to recognize that Flint was not the only city that has this problem, nor was it the worst. Testing has revealed similar and even higher levels of lead in cities all over the country. The results are devastating for children, dooming many of them in school because of the effect lead has on their brains as they develop. The fact that it tends to be focused in cities with high minority populations only makes it more difficult for those children and families to escape poverty and have stable, productive lives.

Congress should make this a major priority in any infrastructure bill that might be passed. Donald Trump has called for a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, though he wants most of it to be in the form of tax breaks to the corporations who do the work rather than in direct funding of municipal projects. That’s a big mistake. Congress should instead allocate the money necessary, likely in the tens of billions of dollars at least, to replace those water systems nationwide. The future of millions of children depend on it.

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