The corroded lead water pipes ferrying tainted tap water to the city of Flint, MI will stay as is for now, officials said this week.
In a press conference Wednesday, Michican gov. Rick Snyder said that replacing the pipes is not in the city’s short-term plans. Instead, officials say they are focused on supplying bottled water and filters to the city’s affected residents—many of whom are below the poverty line—who have no clean water for activities like drinking, bathing, and cooking.
“In terms of short-term, it’s a lot of work to take out pipes, to redo all of the infrastructure, that’s a whole planning process,” Snyder told reporters.
The Flint water crisis began, experts say, when the city switched its water source from Detroit to the Flint River, a more corrosive source that stripped the lead from the city’s aging pipes and deposited it in the homes of the city’s residents. And it might not be limited to Flint—a new study reportedly found higher-than-normal lead levels in several Michigan cities including Grand Rapids, Detroit, Saginaw, Muskegon and Holland.
To that end, the ACLU filed a lawsuit Wednesday demanding the prompt replacement of the pipes, which Snyder says won’t be happening any time soon. Instead, the city will reportedly focus on recoating the interior of the pipes with phosphates in the water.
One of the roadblocks to outright replacing the pipes, Snyder said, is that the city isn’t quite sure where all of them are.
“Where they are, we’re still mapping all that,” he said. “A lot of work is being done to even understand where the lead services lines fully are... The short-term issue is about recoating the pipes and that will be based on third-party experts saying the water is safe.”
The cost of replacing the pipes is also potentially astronomical—Flint mayor Karen Weaver tells the New York Times the estimate could be as high as $1.5 billion.