As this blog is being written, water and community managers from across the country are talking about the water crisis that is occurring in Flint, Michigan. The City made a decision several years ago to discontinue buying Lake Huron water from Detroit in favor of an alternative supplier who was planning on constructing a major new transmission line to provide a “less costly” supply of Lake Huron water. While waiting for the project to be completed, the City relied on water from the Flint River. This source of water was determined to have a different chemical composition that led to water line corrosion causing lead to enter the drinking water supply. In addition to the acute public health impacts of the crisis, the impoverished community is facing a huge price tag to address their infrastructure problems.
As often happens with a crisis, the attention on Flint’s situation is shining a light on challenges that are by no means unique to Flint. While there are many specific circumstances that contributed to the problems in Flint, many of the underlying financial issues facing Flint will have or already have had an impact on water systems across the country. Here are four financial facts that played out in Flint that every water and community manager should be thinking about: