Think Flint’s Water Is Bad? Your Tap Could Be Poisoned Next

“There are certain fundamental infrastructure challenges that Flint is currently enduring that are very widespread throughout the country,” said Kane, “particularly in older, industrialized cities in the Midwest.”

Doubling the impact of sagging infrastructure in Rust Belt America is the fact that the communities where the need is most urgent are lacking the tax base to pay for proper repair and replacement.

All is not lost, Kane said. Some politicians are trying to ensure their constituents will be able to depend on the most basic need of human survival: water.

Kane pointed to Pennsylvania, where the state government has created the PENNVEST program that has provided close to $8 billion in low-interest loans for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater system improvements since 1988.

Chicago officials are pushing a $1.4 billion plan for water infrastructure system upgrades.

Kane said Baltimore officials are working to replace and reline aging pipes, along with improving municipal water treatment plants.

In Columbus, Ohio, officials are working on an integrated blueprint plan to address its stormwater, sewer system, and green infrastructure.

While his counterpart in Michigan was probably putting the finishing touches on his State of the State apology; Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announced a $219.7 million plan Jan. 14 to modernize the state’s aging wastewater and drinking infrastructure, along with another $52.7 million that would be spent on water quality protection initiatives.

“We can no longer ignore these problems with our state's water quality," Dayton said. "They are everyone’s challenge and everyone’s responsibility.”

What’s it going to cost to guarantee clean water in the homes and businesses of Flint, Mich.? Mayor Karen Weaver said the bill could be as much as $1.5 billion. And remember, that is just for one city in Michigan. There are plenty of others with sagging pipes that will need repair and/or replacement.

The cost is tremendous.

Even though Gov. Dayton’s plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix his state’s water system seems more than magnanimous, the EPA figures Minnesota will need $11 billion to make sure its people are drinking pure water.

Brace yourself for a sharp punch in the gut.

The federal government is responsible for less than one-fourth of all the public spending in the U.S. on water systems.

Kane said that means state and local governments are going to have to shoulder the responsibility — and the cost, which is estimated to be close to $1 trillion nationwide — of investigating, designing, relining, and replacing their water pipes.

Besides, how much would assistance from Washington really help?

“The federal government, especially now, is not a model for top-down solutions,” Kane said. “State governments and local municipalities are on their own. The cavalry is not coming.”

This story was updated on Jan. 21.