How Much Would It Cost to Fix Flint's Water Crises?

fix flint water crises cost

What seemed like a simple switch to save State money in Spring 2014 turned into a disaster for the residents of Flint in Michigan. An economic plan had been put in place to change the water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department that had been serving this community for 50 years to a supply that was potentially going to save them a lot of money. This decision quickly led to a health crisis for the 100,000 citizens of Flint.

It became obvious that there was something seriously wrong with many residents suffering the consequences despite initial claims from authorities that everything was fine.

When investigations took place, it was found that much of the cities pipe system relied on old systems that were put in place in the 1930s. There are a few issues that can occur due to using such old pipes, including increased microbial (bacteria presence) in the water, and numerous toxins/heavy-metals — and often not mentioned, unhealthy chemicals added to try to midigate the effects of the toxins released into the water from the pipes.

What Actually Caused the Crises?

The primary cause of the crises was the crises was the old toxic piping that was present throughout flint — however these problems only truly became bad when the water supply was changed from being sourced from the same sources that Detroit received their water from to a more local River/Lake around Flint.

The issue with this change was the Detroit-sourced water was cleaner and not polluted — while the new water source they switched to was contaminated with various heavy metals (led for example) and chemicals dumped by factories upstream many decades ago, as well as generally a higher PH-level which led to the toxins and heavy metals in the old piping system of Flint to be released.

Is the Flint Water Crises Finished & How Much Did it Cost?

Absolutely not — Work has started to fix Flint’s water crisis with lakes being cleaned and some of the pipework changed but it is clear there is still so much more to do and it still isn’t clear, even now — several years later in 2020, just how much work there is to do and how much money this will cost overall.

The effort to save Flint from this crisis has already cost hundreds of millions of dollars and there is still a lot to do! The lakes might have been cleaned but there is still a lot of land that is still contaminated from toxic waste dumping in the past. These areas of land are still yet to be cleaned which is a necessary step due to the contamination levels still testing high above approved safety limits.

Some pipework has been replaced in Flint, however not all of it and crucially most homes still have the old outdated piping in Flint, which due to the damage caused after they switched to the non-Detroit sourced water really should be replaced as now they’re contaminated and thoroughly degraded.

What was the issue with the pipes?

The problem with using this old style of pipes and systems is that when they were built, pipe construction relied on the use of lead. A relatively cheap and easy to use material that seemed like a good option back when the long term effects of lead poisoning were unknown. Now, we know the dangers of lead poisoning and the use of these old pipes proved to be disastrous both to the population’s health in the long-term as well as to the economy of the area as the problems begin to surface, land values drop, businesses and residents flee, and massive costs begin to mount to fix the issue.

It is no secret that the cost of fixing such a large problem — as an entire towns pipe system is expensive and that is just the start of the problem. There are vast lengths of pipework system that need repiping completely. The issues don’t stop at simple pipe replacement either, there are more issues to take into consideration. Water filtration systems need replacing or improving and local lakes and rivers have an excess of toxins that need cleaning up in order to improve the health and environment of the whole area.

Work has started to fix the problems but as the early estimates started to come in it was clear that this money-saving effort had not only cost the population its health, it had cost the State and economy greatly as well. Estimates to help fix the problem originally ranged from 50 million dollars up to a few hundred million dollars, which has already been spent and has yet to completely fix the water crises. They’ve already spent way more than they tried to save by using cheaper led-piping initially as well as more than they saved by switching water supplies — which really shows how paying-it-forward and buying quality pays off in the long-run.

How Much Will It Cost to Finally Fix Flint's Water Crises?

While it’s already costed hundreds of millions of dollars it’s going to cost a lot more to finally fix this crises once and for all — although there are cheaper options and simpler things that can be done to fix the immediate problem rather than fixing every pipe in the city and the environment around the city which would take much longer.

We believe it’d be well worth simply installing/subsidizing better at-home water filtration systems throughout Flint Michigan, and/or install good-quality water filtration machines throughout the area for residents to fill up at for free or extremely low-cost, much like many developing countries in Asia have done to ensure their citizens have access to clean drinking water.

We believe that it would cause short-term relief and be easily paid for by the economic and health benefits that would occur as a result. Or estimated price tag would be, if the government fully paid for it, around 1 million dollars to 30 millions dollars initially for good-quality filters places within walking distance of every residence or in every home (higher figure), with an ongoing cost of up to 6 million per year if you placed them in every home, or a few hundred thousand per year if placed within walking distance of homes and at convenient locations.

This amounts to just a few dollars to about $75 extra in property tax per year per home in the city each year. There’s no budget issue with this, nor large management issue — the only reason this hasn’t been implemented is honestly government incompetence and corruption.

Regardless, there is no doubt about it that things are far better than they were but there is still a long way to go to make Flint a safe place for its residents. While we believe the above solution would have been smarter, the far more complex bureaucratic nonsense that flint has went through had improved things — albeit costing millions and hardly solved the problem for all residents but rather just improved it for most.

If the government continues their bureaucratic centralized fix to the problem it will likely take many more years and hundreds of millions of more dollars, but if that’s the route they go so long as it gets fixed then so be it. We believe it’d be worth it at essentially any cost for reasons we’ll outline below.

Would it be worth it to ACTUALLY fix Flint?

There is obviously an ethical and moral reason for fixing this city — as well as economic reasons to do so — which truly boggles us why city and government officials have yet to fix the crises as of 2020, and why they haven’t implemented a temporary, or even long-term cheap solution like we presented above.

Economic conditions within the city have worsened and only expanded by approximately 10-12% according to official numbers since the start of the water crises, which is barely above inflation. Comparable cities throughout the US, including near Flint that didn’t have such a crises have experienced upward of 30% economic growth in the same time period, which comes out to a loss of thousands of dollars per citizen, and thus hundreds of dollars in tax revenue per citizen, or tens of millions to even hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue per year in revenue depending on the distribution of that wealth and the tax-brackets it falls into.

So regardless of the costs we believe it’d be worth it, as an unhealthy city or a city in crisis is not a good place for business to prosper — businesses that can take their factories and businesses elsewhere will do so.

This results in giving everyone fewer work opportunities, particularly good well-paying ones. House and property prices can potentially drop as a result, lowering overall tax collection for the area over time and investment potential, combined with lower good-quality employment results in lower population which further hurts property prices.

Overall these effects compound into an overall deficit in taxes being paid, a higher crime rate, and potential societal issues as a result, all of which is an added disaster to an already disastrous situation.

This is why fixing Flint is important. The cost may be high now — or cheap if they switch to a more decentralized model, but any amount of money spent now is worth it in the long term.

As such not only is it morally and ethically necessary to help the citizens of Flint — but there’s also a good reason to economically as to encourage business back into the city giving people hope for the future, future job opportunities and encourage the city to flourish again.