The water crisis of 2014/2015 has left an indelible mark on the residents of Flint, Michigan. While it’s difficult to shake the notion that something of this magnitude could even happen in a resource rich nation like the United States, there is a silver lining that can be taken away from this; that each and every one of us should never again become complacent when it comes to the infrastructure that supplies us with the water we need to survive.
What Happened in Flint
Among other topics, Flint is the unfortunate recipient of bad management decisions. Through a decision made by the Governor’s office, the city of Flint began drawing water from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron for human consumption. As the water traveled through a corroded pipe system, it syphoned lead from the deteriorating metal. The contaminated water then made its way into homes across the city where nearly 9,000 children were exposed to lead poisoning. Three state of emergencies and an estimated repair bill of almost two billion dollars later and the city is still reeling.
Lead poisoning,, has been linked to a host of medical and behavioral problems including kidney damage and lower than normal IQs. There are some studies that claim individuals who have been exposed to high concentrations of lead in their youth have a higher propensity for engaging in criminal activity.
Aging Infrastructure Also to Blame
Aside from management decisions that have gone awry, much of the water system infrastructure installed in the middle of the 20th century was made using lead.Naturally, the long term health effects of lead poisoning were not known by the medical establishment back then, but what was known was lead’s superior durability, a characteristic that made it the material of choice for a good portion of Flint’s (and many other cities across the United States) water delivery system.
For many, the cataclysmic failure of Flint’s system is shocking wake-up call that the centralized water system infrastructure that many cities have come to rely upon is deeply, deeply flawed.
Net Positive Water – A Revolutionary Idea
Obviously, Flint (and other cities like it) have a choice when it comes to the future of their water management system. The pragmatist might say that by and large, the current methodology of delivering water is working – that failures of complex systems, while unfortunate, are inevitable. When a system fails it can be repaired, and made stronger; after all, advances in technology have given us things like water main leak detection units that are designed to alert authorities of an impending failure.
But what if each neighborhood, each home, was capable of collecting and treating its own supply of water? Some say that the future of water management is a future that will rely on a Net Positive Water system.
Simply put, the idea behind a Net Positive Water project revolves around a structure, like an office building or a home that is equipped to collect 100% of its water needs from natural rainfall. The water is collected in a tank, filtered, and treated for use. A Net Positive Building would also have its very own water reuse equipment on-site, effectively ensuring that its water needs will always be met, and eliminating any reliance on a larger, costly, external system.
This type of technology gives a city like Flint a decent helping of ‘food for thought’. When faced with a complete overhaul, do you adopt a “fix and replace mentality”, or do you take a chance at making the system better by seeing how modern technology can improve upon the status quo? Do you strive to be a prime example of efficiency, or to be a cautionary tale?
At the risk of sounding biased, city managers in Flint would be ill-advised to not recognize the opportunity that lies before them; to see just how effective new water management solutions can be.
Individual, standalone systems would virtually eliminate any chances the woes that have plagued the residents of Flint would ever occur again. And while it may be a gamble, it’s safe to say that the people of Flint are ready for a change.