Thursday, January 28, 2016

Flint Water: A Political Football. Part 13

Lucky number post 13!

If we take out hindsight, what are we left with?  Incompetence? Willful disregard? Apathy?

Those words really don't fit well here, although they do - pardon the pun - contaminate what went on.

As I see it, and this is after a week of looking at all the stuff I could find (so take that into consideration regarding how much stock to put into my opinion), what took place in Flint was a snowball that got bigger and bigger as it rolled down the hill.

So if we look at it like a snowball, the question to ask is who - or what - started it down that hill?

I SPECULATE that it was the result of a decision to use Flint River water with the knowledge that it would be difficult to treat but with the assurance that it could be treated.

The problem is, as I pointed out in my last post, is that thinking was folly.

The City of Flint, as was documented in Veolia's March 12, 2015 report clearly identifies the lack of treatment capability and knowledge on the part of the city. They did not have the monitoring equipment to confirm the water chemistry was correct and they did not have the trained operators that understood how to treat this particular water.

They knew, before they made the switch to the Flint River, that the water would be a challenge. They knew this but did it anyway. They were told it was a bad idea, but went forward anyway. Why?

SPECULATION It was money that made them ignore the negatives. If you look at the projections of cost savings to use the Flint River in place of continuing to use Detroit water during this gap in time, you can see how it most likely became 'damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!' by those in charge.

Was it the Governor who made this call? Does it matter? If one person can overrule all the others who have responsibility; the health department; the environmental department; the engineering firms; the water operators; the mayor, the city council, the people...then we have a serious problem with how we govern.

If it wasn't the Governor and it was that unelected emergency manager assigned by the Governor, we still have the same issue. Someone overruled the technical people telling them what it would take and that it was a bad idea.

...or all those technical people were incompetent, or on the take, or wanted to promote genocide, or wanted the Republicans/Democrats to look bad.

You see where this goes?

SPECULATION It was the cost savings that put the Flint River as the gap water source in play, and everyone who opposed it got on-board because of who was on-board. Groupthink took over because of the players at the table.  Each one said their concern, and then gave their approval with the understanding that those concerns would be taken care of.

If everything went as they planed it, it would work.  Its water afterall, we treat water all the time from many different sources and make it into drinking water. We knew it would be hard going in, but golly we can do it!
On June 29th 2013, following many preliminary discussions on how the City would fill the interim gap, a formal, all day meeting was held at the Flint Water Plant with all interested parties including City of Flint Officials (COF), representatives from the Genesee County Drain Commissioners Office (GCDC), the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and the design engineers from the previous plant upgrade Lockwood, Andrews, and Newnam (LAN).
Everyone was there. See! Look at what we discussed!

It all sounds good when in an air conditioned room. This ship done sailed and it was going to be up to the Flint Water System employees to make it work. Go for it guys!

SPECULATION Somebody done messed up! Who? All of them.  Groupthink took over because the guy in charge said we are going to use Flint River water, make it work. And they did...on paper.
These facts were balanced against a licensed staff, LAN engineering’s extensive experience in this field, advanced equipment that Flint has for treatment, and support from the DEQ.
Snap back to reality. Oh, there goes gravity...
...the same diligence was given in determining what source water to use while waiting for the community supported KWA water to arrive. The City concluded from this work that the Flint River presented a safe and financially responsible alternative water source.
Yes, but you did not finish it.  You opened up that spigot and you did not put in place the operators, monitoring, and sampling protocol needed to do what you wanted to do. You claim you had it all figured out, but reality says differently.

It was a safe alternative only if you made it a safe alternative. That did not happen.  That's not a hindsight problem, that's a failure to follow through problem. Who's fault is it then when the response is:
The decision to use the Flint River as an intermediate water source was approved by state regulatory officials in 2014...
LAN engineering’s extensive experience in this field...
The DEQ F-I state licensed operator in charge that oversees the operation of the treatment process. This license is the highest classification in the state that specializes in “complete treatment” The City of Flint has such a person on staff at the water plant and that person’s responsibility is to determine the correct levels of chemical treatment, monitor the system, submit official test results to the state regulatory agency, and make necessary adjustments when contaminant levels are breached. All of these steps were followed and acknowledged by the DEQ.
See, everything is in order.  That's January 13th, 2015.  Now look at what Veolia tells us in their report dated March 12th, 2015:
The February 2015 report from LAN...indicated apparent reasons for the elevated levels of TTHM in the distribution system. Obtain a THM Analyzer and Carry Out Jar Testing.
That should have been in place on day one.  In March, 2015 Veolia recommends:
The staff understands the basic treatment process but needs further practice and training to become proficient in the use of routine process control to adjust for water quality.
The amount of testing and resulting changes in chemical dosages, along with monitoring the impact on the water, will require a well-documented process that all operators follow. An example of this is jar testing, which is used by the operators to identify the most effective chemicals and dosages to optimize treatment.
Standard operating procedure needs to be set and lab technicians trained in that process.
 ...should also consider a TOC analyzer that can be an online continuous device to provide immediate information on influent and effluent levels of TOC. 
Do I need to say it again? This should have been in place when the Flint River spigot was turned on.

Reading the Veolia report does bring up some interesting questions as to how much was said and how little was done.

Next post: Flint Water: A Political Football.  Part 14

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