Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Maria Scicchitano makes this connection here.

“The Poisoning of Flint’s Water” was published by the New York Times on January 21st, 2016. This news article is important to both hydrology and hydraulics because of its relations with water source quality and the distribution of it through a drinking water system. In the City of Flint, Michigan, a horrific story has unfolded about the corrupt city leaders who left thousands to drink load poisoned water for years. In 2014, the Flint city leaders voted to switch their water supply from nearby Detroit city water, to their own treatment plant of the Flint River water (Figure 1). They did this because it was cheaper to clean the river water than to continue to buy it from the city of Detroit. What they didn’t take into account was the susceptibility of the aged distribution systems to corrosion and lead contamination. Many of the pipe connections to the old homes of the city contain lead, but were safe to drink from because the former water supply had an anti-corrosion agent added to it to prevent the lead from getting into the water. When the community began filing complaints about the foul-smelling and colored water, the city leaders did all they could to artificially suppress findings of lead in the water. The most controversial piece to this story is the demographics of the city of Flint. It is a mostly black and impoverished community, and many believe that government’s lack of response to their complaints was because of this. Had the government put the health of their citizens as a priority, they would have saved money in the long run. Now that the pipes are severely corroded, they will need to be replaced in many areas. If they had kept paying for the Detroit city water, or done a better analysis of their distribution system, it is estimated that they would have saved over a billion dollars that they will now spend to repair the system. In general, I would believe that most of the facts given in the articles and the news about this crisis are valid. There are several cases where theories floating around with different reasoning behind the lead leaching, but from the various reports I have read, it sounds like a combination of many problems that lead to the corrosion of the pipes. CNN also published several articles about the Flint Water Crisis, and for the most part, the information matches up (Botelho, Greg et al, 2016). The most important piece of information that was missing was how the city plans to repair the complicated and old piping system, and how they will determine which areas are a priority.

This article speaks to many broader areas than WRE. It includes political, societal, and environmental concerns. How the government is going to make it up to the people of this city for poisoning them and their children has not yet been answered. Every article talks about how horrible it is that they let it happen, but history can’t be rewritten by scolding the politicians. I believe the best way to make it up to the people of Flint would be to enact a law protecting underprivileged citizens from such hazards due to environmental justice. WRE issues impacted by the societal issues included the people of the city’s accepted plea to switch back to Detroit water. The people of the city may believe switching back to Detroit water will be good enough to return to their original water quality, but now that the lead has been exposed by corrosion, it may still leach into the drinking water. The politics and societal influences on the WRE in Flint are drastically different than they were before the crisis. People want to know that the water they are drinking is safe, and that the government is going to do everything they can to assure that. BBC also shared several articles about the Flint crisis, and they highlight the trust issues that the people of Flint now have for their leaders. Figure 2 shows the citizens po (BBC, 2016). Before water resource engineers can work to fix Flint’s problems, the government needs to find funding and rebuild trust in the distribution system. The cause of the societal distrust in the government was due to the WRE hydrologic and hydraulic failure of providing potable water water to the people of Flint.




Figure 1. City of Flint, Michigan and their water treatment plant that contaminated thousands of people with hazardous levels of lead in their drinking water.


Figure 2.. Flint residents protesting for the punishment of the government official who is mainly responsible for the crisis.




BBC News. “Flint water crisis: Barack Obama says people ‘short-changed’.” Last edited

1/21/2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35368144. Accessed on


Blow, Charles. “The Poisoning of Flint’s Water.” The New York Times, Last edited 1/21/2016.



Botelho, Greg et al. “Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan, draws federal investigation.” CNN. CNN

Health, Last edited 1/9/2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/05/health/flint-michigan-

water-investigation/. Accessed on 1/30/2016.