Why Flint’s lead pipe replacement costs so much, and moves so slowly

An excavator can only go so deep into the ground before the hand shovels have to be used. Here, Danny Romero puts his weight into some particularly hard earth. (Bridge photos by Nancy Derringer)

Jerry Dalrymple digging a hole with an excavator

Jerry Dalrymple runs the excavator as the hole gets deeper.

Two men working in an excavated hole

Water utilities run well below the ground’s frost line, and the holes are deep.

Plumber Ken Davison performing wrench work inside an excavated hole

Plumber Ken Davison does the wrench work when the new line goes in.

Kapus Brown runs copper line through a hole in the excavated dirt

Plumber apprentice Kapus Brown runs copper line to his supervisor.

A City of Flint Water Dept. flag in the ground near a utility pole

One of the many complications of the project: A utility pole rises too close to the water-line connection for safe digging.

A chain wrapped around a utility pole near where crews have dug into the dirt

A solution to the too-close pole: A chain secures the bottom while crews dig.

FLINT – Pity the Ida Avenue resident who wanted, or needed, to sleep late today. The sun was barely out of bed when the excavator started piledriving into the asphalt in front of 1410, breaking it up in preparation for a morning of digging.

On this morning, it was 1410’s turn to get a new water service line. The crews have been out for a while in this neighborhood on the southwest side of Flint, replacing the infamously damaged lead pipes of the city’s aging infrastructure, the source of its now years-long water crisis.

The process started slowly in February, but is beginning to pick up speed under the oversight of Michael McDaniel, the retired Michigan National Guard brigadier general appointed to oversee Flint’s FAST Start program, dedicated to this very chore.

Homeowners know that whenever heavy equipment arrives at your house, the bill is rarely small. But the Flint figures have been a little startling. A pilot study done for the state, to get a handle on the challenge ahead, estimated an average price of $7,500 per house to change water lines. The state, in making a $25 million grant to get the program started, set a limit of $5,000 per home. The lowest initial bids came in at $6,000. Why so expensive? Because nothing about this effort is easy, or uncomplicated.

A homeowner in another city having such work done would be likely to see it accomplished with directional boring – a small hole dug near the sidewalk, the new pipe pushed through to the house and connected. But in Flint, the entire line, from the main in the street to the house, has to be unearthed and replaced and reconnected, because lead corrosion runs its entire length. It’s a lot more work. A lot more digging. And a lot more money.

It turns out that digging a hole in the ground in an older city like Flint is a lot like doing surgery in the 19th century. You never really know what you’re going to find in there.

What sounds simple – dig a hole, find the line, replace the line, fill the hole – rarely is. Once lines are laid, few clues on the surface hint at what might be underneath. People plant trees, gardens, live their lives in the houses above. Years pass, decades. The trees stretch their branches to the sun and roots deep into the earth. The city prospers and grows, falters and contracts. Residents move in and out.

And then, one day maybe 90 years after 1410 Ida and its neighbors were new, a bunch of guys in hardhats, mud on their boots, stand staring into a hole at the curb.

There’s good news to report: The maple tree in the park strip was planted far enough away from the service line that they didn’t have to take it down. The bad news: There’s good reason to believe the connection between the line and the main is weak and could give way as the work begins on it; of the seven such blowouts to happen as the line-replacement project gets running, five have been on Ida Avenue.

“Must have been a Friday or Monday,” when those lines were installed, laborer and shovel man Derrick Russell says, to chuckles, acknowledging a fact of the work week that endures across generations.

If the connection blows, it’ll be a pain and a half. The hole in the ground – already the size of two graves – will fill with water in a matter of minutes, and the water will have to be shut off to the whole street until it’s pumped out and the connection replaced. It will be yet another complication in a project jammed with them.

What sorts of complications? Every pipe replacement starts with paperwork, because the city isn’t just replacing the lead service lines that run from the water main to the curb, i.e., the part of the line that is city owned. Because the entire system was damaged by untreated water that caused lead from the pipes to leach into the system, they’re replacing the private portion as well, the lines that run from the curb to each house, and that requires written permission from homeowners, who may be absentee.

The houses on Ida Avenue were built in the 1920s. Part of the street is brick, laid in a herringbone pattern. Old street bricks are valuable, and must be preserved at the request of the city’s street department. Sometimes a sidewalk has to be destroyed to get to the line, and that requires repair, as does the street where the hole is dug.

But the main problem is, this is an old neighborhood in an old city. And the city did things differently decades ago.

Our peculiar infrastructure

Take the use of lead. Although the metal has been known to be toxic for thousands of years, its advantages as a pipe material – it’s so malleable it can be easily bent with the hands – kept it in use for plumbing well after the houses on Ida Avenue were built.

“Lead was the Cadillac of pipe material back in the day,” said Rick Freeman, director of engineering for Rowe Professional Services Co. in Flint, and one of the co-authors of the pilot study. “They were living high in Flint, then.”

Rowe oversaw the replacement of 33 service lines, in an effort to get a sense of the scope and cost of replacing the thousands that will need to be done before the city can be made whole. It’s “thousands” because a precise number can’t be settled on yet; it changes as the project evolves, and it has expanded to include homes with galvanized lines as well (once corroded, the roughness on the inside of galvanized pipe can pick up and hold lead particles from elsewhere in the system). To date, only 224 Flint homes have had their lines replaced, with summer over and cold weather bearing down. More than 17,000 remain to be done. Probably.

All of these contradictions and conundrums fall on McDaniel, the city’s water czar. That the project is known as FAST is an irony McDaniel doesn’t concentrate on.

It’s hard to know how fast pipe replacement can be accomplished in a city where the location of lead service lines was filed not on a city computer, but on 45,000 handwritten index cards. Even after the lines’ locations were determined, other questions arose, McDaniel said. Spread the work out around the city, or concentrate on one area at a time? Which customers would get priority? Should vacant or substandard housing be included? Eventually, the city settled on a simple qualification: To get pipes replaced, a household must have an active water-service account. It doesn’t have to be paid up, but as long as a customer is paying something, they will get a new line.

This erring-on-the-side-of-caution approach is understandable, given the history of government incompetence in Flint. In a story that is now known worldwide, Flint’s water lines were damaged in 2014 by failing to treat water from the Flint River, a highly corrosive water source the state-appointed emergency manager chose to save the impoverished municipality money. Lead, a neurotoxin, leached from the pipes into drinking water, poisoning children and others, and will end up costing the state millions more, in legal settlements, bottled water, and thousands of new pipes.

In his make-do office in the basement of the Flint City Hall, McDaniel’s military background is in evidence. His aide, Nick Anderson, is a veteran and employee of the National Guard and typically wears fatigues to work. The furniture is spartan and the decor consists of a number of city maps with acetate overlays, where neighborhoods targeted for current or upcoming pipe work are marked in grease pencil.

Although the state’s money hasn’t been formally released yet -- McDaniel was hoping the first $5 million would arrive within days -- the project has begun. A $2 million reimbursement to the city from the state, for costs associated with the switch back to Detroit water, along with an extra $190,000 classified as emergency spending, has gotten the project moving.

Down, down, down

Back on Ida Avenue, the first three or four feet of the digging goes quickly, with Jerry Dalrymple at the joystick of the excavator. Four layers of asphalt were laid aside, a few inches of topsoil, and then he’s into heavy, greasy clay. But if he digs too far with the power equipment, he risks damaging a main or sewer line. The rest of the way has to be done by hand, with laborers Russell and Danny Moreno doing the shovel work. It’s not exactly an archaeological dig, but a certain delicacy is called for. They probe with a metal rod before jumping on their shovels when they hit a hard patch.

“Maybe we’ll find Jimmy Hoffa,” Russell says, perhaps the ten thousandth time that joke has been deployed over an open hole in Michigan. So far in this project, the excitement has been confined to the remnants of earlier eras. There are abandoned gas lines, which have to be carefully handled to determine they are actually abandoned; and peculiar connections like the three-pronged “chickenfoot” used for some larger buildings in Flint. Some service lines curve or even loop, for reasons known only to the long-gone people who installed them.

Hoffa’s not down there, but they do find the water main, and with a little more shovel work, the connection to 1410’s service line. It’s a standard connection, and as Russell cuts the lead line, it holds -- not a Friday/Monday installation. The water in the line sprays like a sliced blood vessel for a moment, then dribbles off. It’s taken three hours to get this far. The two go to work on the other side of the curb, digging out the short distance to the connection at the curb stop. At the four-hour mark it’s time to call the plumbers.

Ida Avenue residents welcome the new plumbing, but the work has taken a toll on everybody’s nerves. Besides the construction noise, there’s dust on dry days, mud on wet ones, which drives resident Michael Huntley crazy; he takes pride in having the best yard on the block. At least he did. His pipe replacement, done a few days previous, went awry, and an inexperienced contractor ended up damaging the lawn. Anderson, McDaniel’s aide, said the city will fix the damage and the contractor won’t be back for the next phase, but for Huntley, staring balefully at his ruined lawn, it’s just another blow in more than a year of them.

Huntley isn’t worried about his water, he said. A retired contractor himself, he bought the house as a long-term restoration project, and one of his first projects was replumbing it. When the switch from treated Detroit water to improperly treated Flint River water happened in 2014, he installed a filter, “on a hunch,” he said, once he saw the discolored stuff coming out of his tap.

“Common sense told me to do that,” he said.

Back at the curb, plumbers Ken Davison and his apprentice, Kapus Brown, have arrived. Brown carries a coil of brand-new copper line and pays out enough to reach from the main to the curb connection. That’s all they’ll be doing today. The line to the house was replaced three months ago, when it was sold to an investor. The new owner lives in Las Vegas.

Davison puts on his hard hat and jumps into the hole for the wrench work with a pipe cutter, a new connection valve and a can of pipe dope, adhesive/sealant for the joints. It doesn’t take long, but he’s soon called away to oversee another job elsewhere in the neighborhood. Brown does the connection to the curb stop, his first as an apprentice. Davison will approve it when he returns, and a city inspector will approve both men’s work. Sometimes the inspector arrives in 10 minutes. Sometimes, three hours. The job is essentially done. It’s time for lunch.

A canary in a coal mine?

Two lessons are obvious from watching this process. One is that American infrastructure, with or without untreated water poisoning homes with a neurotoxin, is hardly in fighting form. The American Society of Civil Engineers has been sounding this alarm for some time, and Ron Brenke, director of the ASCE’s Michigan section, agrees.

“If people are getting clean water every day, if the toilet flushes and what’s in it goes away, what’s the problem?” he said, describing the mindset of most residents (and, more to the point, taxpayers). “Out of sight, out of mind” is the civil engineer’s shorthand for infrastructure neglect, and anyway, asset management -- keeping track of sewers and water mains, doing routine maintenance to avoid catastrophe -- is hard.

Brenke serves on Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, and said better regional coordination is necessary to better manage the state’s resources, which are vital to a growing economy. He also sits on the Michigan Utility Coordination Committee, charged with making sense of the surprises that await crews like the ones in Flint when they open the ground, for any reason. It’s affiliated with the Miss Dig program, but Brenke points out that Miss Dig, a notification system of utility-line location before excavation begins, is only as good as the information reported to it.

“We need a new process where, when we put something in the ground, you take measurements of X,Y and Z coordinates of where it’s going,” said Brenke. “It will help 20 years from now, but not today. If you abandon something, and don’t pull it out of the ground, it should be marked so it’s in a database. It’s a major undertaking. It will take time, it’s another cost, but it’s important for the future.”

That’s probably too late for Flint, where the release of the first installment of state money will allow the next phase of line replacement to begin, McDaniel said. The process picks up speed as crews gain experience, and some efficiencies are emerging; the latest bids are coming in at below the state’s $5,000 threshold, and McDaniel expects 4,000 homes could be completed next spring and summer.

(The crews will work as far into the cold season as temperatures allow. The problem in winter is not the ground, which can be excavated even if it’s frozen, but the asphalt on the surface street repair. It’s always something.)

The state’s initial $25 million may cover a quarter or a third of the project, he said. Congress authorized spending last month of up to $170 million for water infrastructure projects in poor cities that includes Flint, but others with lead problems, as well.

Back at 1410, Jasmine Tincoff answers the door with her 4-year-old daughter, Anaiah, at her side. She’s been in this house for a month, moving from the city’s north side. No one told her to expect the crews that day, and she was surprised to find her water turned off that morning. But like most people in Flint, she had bottled water on hand, so it wasn’t much of an inconvenience.

“I’m so glad to be here,” she said. “My daughter was getting rashes before” when the city was using river water. Once the water was turned back on, she’d have to flush her lines thoroughly before filling the bathtub, and more testing would have to be done. But Anaiah’s rashes, and bottled-water baths, would be over for 1410 Ida Avenue.

Freeman, who worked on the pilot project, is frank about what Flint faces.

“Realistically, it simply can’t be done quickly,” he said. “If the project is to do the entire city, this is going to take years.”


Like what you’re reading in Bridge? Please consider a donation to support our work!

We are a nonprofit Michigan news site focused on issues that impact all citizens. In an era of click bait and biased news, we focus on taking the time to learn both sides of a story before we post it. Bridge stories are always free, but our work costs money. If our journalism helps you understand and love Michigan more, please consider supporting our work. It takes just a moment to donate here.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 10/20/2016 - 10:28am
An extremely relevant data point the writer failed to share was the experience of Lansing, MI's water utility in gradually replacing the majority of their lead service lines over multiple years (planned to be 100% by year-end 2017). That process also removed all portions of the lead pipe connections to each residence and school, and cost the Lansing utility an average of just under $3,000 per service line replaced. Lansing's residential neighborhoods and water / sewer infrastructure are approximately as old and likely somewhat more complex than Flint's. The Lansing effort used primarily Water Department employees, not contractors, who "flexed" to cover emergency water main breaks, etc. whenever there was an emergency. But that Lansing experience, and an effort by the legislature to head off profiteering by contractors, is why the state introduced the $5,000 cap in the legislation to fund Flint's initial service line replacement efforts.
Nancy Derringer
Thu, 10/20/2016 - 10:46am
Glad you mentioned it, Anna. The experience of Lansing isn't exactly the same. In a somewhat different setup than in most cities (and certainly Flint), the Lansing utility owns the entire service line -- not just the part between the curb stop and the main. So starting out, they didn't have to deal with the property-owner search/permission part of the process. They also weren't dealing with an emergency situation; their pipes were lead, but the water was being properly treated, and wasn't poisoning the people who drank it. By spreading the process out over about 15 years, they were able to budget for it over the long term, and use their own employees, not contractors. All of this made for a smoother, less expensive process than what Flint faces.
Michigan Observer
Thu, 10/20/2016 - 7:20pm
Except for Ms. Derringer's comment about the " property-owner search/permission part of the process.", I can't see much of substance in her defense of Flint's higher costs for replacing lead service lines. I can't see that Flint's emergency situation is particularly relevant; filters are a much quicker way of dealing with that than replacing lead service pipes. And is there any reason why Flint can't deal with the problem over several years using their own employees rather than contractors?
John Q.
Sat, 10/22/2016 - 12:22pm
15 years does not equal "several years".
Thu, 10/20/2016 - 10:33am
Pardon me but when does a big city ever do anything without paying an exorbitant price for it? Especially when they think someone else will be picking up the tab. And if it doesn't start that way it will by the end the final cost will have no resemblance to the estimate. This is the way, with few exceptions, governments just work and I'll bet anyone anything that Flint wont be an exception! Anyone wanting to take my bet let me know.
Thu, 10/20/2016 - 11:21am
First, Flint is no longer "poisoning the people" who drink their water. Even babies, young children and pregnant women are cleared to drink filtered Flint tap water, and in most of the tested neighborhoods, the filtering process is deemed a "belt and suspenders" level of safety. Second, anyone who thinks that Flint will be finished with the lead removal process in less than ~ 10 years is not paying attention to the slowness with which infrastructure repairs / upgrades happen in this country. There is no way that the Michigan or US governments are going to appropriate all the money needed to replace all lead service lines in Flint within a year, or even two. This is especially true when Flint's city government mis-spent money appropriated for water infrastructure upgrades, including lead service line removal, granted to them from the State and Feds as part of the 2009 stimulus. Triply so when you consider that the service lines in Flint are the legal and financial responsibility of the property owner, not the utility. The cost of the lead line replacements should legally paid by the owner of each property, probably with some form of low- or no-interest loan from the government. The precedent of "giving away" the full cost of lead-service line replacement in Flint creates horrendous risk to the financial stability of every municipal water utility in the country.
Thu, 10/20/2016 - 12:12pm
When the city makes the decision to replace the water source and doesn't ensure the new source will not destroy the existing supply lines, then the costs associated with replacing the lines should rest squarely on the city's shoulders. The homeowner had no say in the matter, and did nothing to be burdened by this government made disaster. To suggest otherwise is appalling, and you should be ashamed for saying so.
Thu, 10/20/2016 - 1:50pm
Anna, Let's be clear, the residents of Flint have been poisoned with a NEUROTOXIN. Do you know what that means? It means that lead has been absorbed into the bodies of Flint residents, where it is stored and leaches out into the brain, organs, etc. during times of high stress, causing irreparable damage. Can you think of anything more stressful than not knowing how lead will present in your child? Or knowing that because you trusted State government, your infant may be cognitively delayed. Add to that the fact that DEQ, DHHS, and the governor's office knew what was happening and decided it was more prudent to discredit and try to destroy the career of whistleblowers. Worse yet, had they not gotten caught, this could still be happening. You are correct about the amount of time needed to repair the infrastructure and yes Flint has not been as fiscally responsible as they could have been (along with many other Michigan cities that despite being in financial distress were not assigned an Emergency Manager) . Then again, neither has the state. The revenue sharing policies of this administration are akin to robbery. Not to mention, the fact that the EM law was voted down by the wise voters of the state of MI but was pushed through in an appropriations bill to protect it from voters in the future. If the governor and legislature can make us swallow a law we clearly did not want, they should have to pay for every single line in every single city with an EM. My final point is this, it must be real easy to sit where ever you sit, removed from the situation in Flint and render your opinion as if it is anything more than that. You don't know what has happened or is happening in Flint. Do you know that the state was sending bottled water to the State offices while telling Flint residents the water was safe to drink. What you know is totally couched in your ability to distance yourself from our problem. If you want to do something, come to Flint and drink some "filtered water" or better yet, give some to your family. If you are not willing to do that, maybe you should keep your opinions to yourself.
Michigan Observer
Thu, 10/20/2016 - 6:46pm
Tina says, "Add to that the fact that DEQ, DHHS, and the governor’s office knew what was happening and decided it was more prudent to discredit and try to destroy the career of whistleblowers." There is no evidence to support any of this. This was an appallingly tragic event, but sometimes such events are the result of bureaucratic incompetence and system failures. The rest of state government and the emergency managers relied on MDEQ to perform tasks that were considered well within their capability. That was not unreasonable. But MDEQ unreasonably misinterpreted the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule to mean that they could run two separate six month tests before determining whether or not Flint's water should be treated with anti-corrosion materials. That was extremely imprudent. If they had required treatment from the beginning, the downside would have been a small expense that might not have been needed. Waiting for the results of the two six month tests had a catastrophic downside. There is no justification for Tina's attack on Anna.
Fri, 10/21/2016 - 4:07pm
Tina, I am all too familiar with the effects of neurotoxins on young brains, due to familiarity with several students with severe Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I am also quite familiar with the limits of special education certification and what kind of services and supports are needed for children with various types of neurological abnormalities. And I know that, while they mean well, the Special Educators in Flint Public Schools are not very good at their jobs. My school district hired their previous Special Education Director some years back. You know the old saying about how first class people hire first class people, but second class people hire third class people? This guy, who has since returned to Flint as a consultant, was distinctly third class. So I don't even want to think about the qualifications and (lack of ) skill of people he would choose to hire as special education teachers. What makes you think I am far removed from the situation in Flint? I have a student at Kettering University, where the construction they've undertaken over the past 10-12 years resulted in the replacement of all the old service lines with new PVC connections to the water main, and filters added to all the drinking and cooking water outlets, because of the very poor maintenance on the water mains between Flint and Detroit, well before the "crisis" due to source changes arose. I have read the bulletins about the Flint water crisis from Kettering, and have complete trust in their facilities engineers and the Civil Engineering faculty. One of my own children has been drinking their filtered Flint water 12 weeks out of 24 for 3 years now. :-) I agree wholeheartedly with AG Schuette that the first and most significant failure was in the Flint City administration, and it took place long before the arrival of Darnell Early as Emergency Manager. They hired a utility department director who did not have the education or other credentials needed to do the job, and he hired people to operate the Flint Water Utility who were similarly unqualified. Those unqualified water plant operators relied on the State Department of Environmental Quality, where some people were more concerned with not causing trouble for Gov. Snyder and his Flint EM than with fairly obvious (at least to qualified water plant operators) threats to public health and safety. The Flint employees also "fudged" their descriptions of test sites and measured lead levels to both the DEQ and the EPA. On top of that, they were playing CYA with the EPA Region 5 Authorities, all but one of whom failed miserably to do the right thing. The EPA went so far as to reassign their in-house whistle blower, who tried very hard to explain that, against all sense and standard practice, the people in Flint's water plant were NOT adding anti-corrosives to the Flint River water and that this meant that the water was not just discolored, but potentially dangerous. Those stubborn and unqualified people have lost their jobs, and several of them have been charged with crimes. Then we get to the recent release of the EPA's Inspector General's report. The Federal agency charged with oversight of our state and city water treatment professionals shut down and reassigned their own internal drinking water chemistry expert because of racial politics. They didn't want to offend the Flint authorities, including the Emergency Manager, all of whom were African-American Democrats, by *ordering* the Flint Water Plant to add anti-corrosives. So they allowed an extra 7 months of neurotoxin exposure for some of the residents of Flint before a courageous pediatrician and her friend who WAS a fully-qualified water plant engineer broke this story. So in what way was a failure of state revenue sharing behind the incompetence of Flint's utility department? In what possible way does the provision of filtered or bottled water in a workplace indicate that the tap water is "unsafe"? My employer also provides bottled drinking water and filters on the drinking fountains, and we get our water from the Detroit / Great Lakes system too. According to the people in Flint's utilities department, that water was safe, but esthetically displeasing.
Michigan Observer
Thu, 10/20/2016 - 7:05pm
Ms. Derringer says, "Brenke serves on Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, and said better regional coordination is necessary to better manage the state’s resources, which are vital to a growing economy." I would have liked to have seen Mr. Brenke's justification for his belief in the value of "regional coordination". Just how would it contribute to the better management of our resources? Too many people have too much faith in "coordination" and "planning". Granted, the world is a messy, chaotic place, but perhaps that is a sign of vigor and growth.
Joann Helmbold
Fri, 10/21/2016 - 7:53pm
I was so very glad so see someone talk about replacing water lines in Lansing. I had seen a news clip about this (in Lansing) and the Lansing "people" had expressed a willingness to come to Flint and help the DPW (or city workers) get started at this. They could "do" one house in the fraction of time it is taking in Flint and for a fraction of the cost. I have tried to get WNEM to "Ask The Tough Questions" to investigate if someone in Flint has their "hand in the til drawer" or is sending high priced contracts to their friends but seem to be ignored by WNEM. In Lansing they were digging next to a house, connecting the new water line to the old and from the water main, "pulling" the old lineout - and hence the new water line in. Then the new line would be connected at both ends and "Presto" job completed. I still don't understand WHY each line in Flint has to be "dug"! OR perhaps people in Flint are waiting for "millions" more to do the work!
Sun, 10/23/2016 - 9:51am
well they are all working in washington FIRST...on the water pipeline.
Mon, 10/24/2016 - 1:09am
The insight that Anna has is pretty spot on. I worked in the Engineering Department when that alluded to DPW Manager was in charge. He was hired sight unseen, in a phone interview. Prior to his employment at Flint, he was actually a technician in the Traffic Engineering department of the City of Toronto, who had somehow gotten an Engineering License and then had to get the reciprocal agreement after he had talked the :interviewers" into hiring him.....(His license was Canadian, He was on the skids in Toronto I later heard, and he was a nightmare to work for. . .) He was never "able" to get to Flint for an in person interview.... so... Then there is the fact that NO ONE that is actually qualified will take a job in the City Administration would ever do that without an iron clad contract.... and a huge salary, because if they have done their homework (and most real professionals do) they understand the liability and tenuousness of their employ. The fault really lies in the fact that the elected folks generally know nothing actually necessary for managing a Municipal Corporation, and much of the remaining population (electorate) is struggling just to get by day to day. In a regular election, historically, less than 10% show up and vote...They do not have the "culture of knowledge or logic" available to them to be able to determine who may or may not be a decent candidate... so they take "the Pastors" suggestion. (and often ride the church bus to the polls!.......Not to mention, a decent candidate for mayor has not been in office since Matthew Collier. I had access to (well, and control of) the infamous 45.000 cards,which... admittedly are cryptic and overly simple at times..... that are so often referred to .... and all of the engineering drawings that were also produced at the time the water/sewer infrastructure was built. There was in fact a project started to manage all this information... but with little money and very little staff. No one ever hears about this, because 1) There was a 15 million dollar fine paid out of the fund we needed to get this project going (for dumping unprocessed sewage into the river during a flood in Feb of 2008) and 2) Williamson "fired" the man with the license to run the Sewer Treatment Plant, who along with some of his staff were the catalyst getting this information brought out of the 19th century, ..... for paying licensed operators to run the plant at night on overtime... which the Don had DECREED could not happen. Poop does not magically stop flowing to the plant on third shift, and it's cheaper to pay the overtime, since the State REQUIRES a licensed operator on duty, than it is to train and remunerate more qualified people in a no money situation. The level of incompetency is IMO, unimaginable. I left when Williamson got elected to a second term of my own accord, because I was in a position to. Not everyone is. When Darnel Early was "running" Flint, and the GIS technician (there was only ONE) died suddenly, I offered to help out.. essentially for free until they could get another person in to do the job. He told me someone at the water treatment center was going to try to do it (not).... (who is now a Union Official) I give up.... Nowadays, the City HOPES that UM Flint GIS will do this work... and the students there HOPE that they can get a job in Flint... cuz GIS is mostly utilised at the front end by governmental entities. Anyway, we had anaylised the pressures in the water system (important at the hydrant points) and knew where to start.... but the water delivery system had not been ruined yet back then. so now, the question is.... why did they dump the sewage into the river..(right near Kettering..slightly upriver)... THAT would be a really good investivation... and THAT mistake (ie: the fine) was the beginning of the water problems in Flint. BTW, other municipalities DO have this information in GIS databases at their fingertips... in case something "blows" and so they can do fixes and repairs in a TIMELY fashion, with City staff... but then, they have competent and at least somewhat concerned staff that they actually appreciate and are intelligent enough to utilise..........all the time.... not just in an "emergency". Let us all hope the sewage system doesn't fail before we get past the water challenges.... cuz digging up the water lines and ignoring the sewers could turn out to be.... well..... folly.