By Peter Chawaga
The City of Flint, Michigan — the country’s most visible victim of lead contamination in drinking water brought on by outdated infrastructure — has recently run into trouble financing much needed improvements on the wastewater side.
The latest proposed budget from the city would see the money allocated for wastewater treatment dip significantly, despite the need for capital improvements.
“Mayor Karen Weaver’s budget suggests cutting Flint’s wastewater treatment budget from $13 million to $10.7 million,” according to MLive. “Less than $1 million of that funding is for capital improvements … [But] the department is at a ‘critical point’ with its wastewater treatment plant.”
In fact, the wastewater treatment plant is in such desperate need of additional funds that city officials are worried that wastewater issues could soon overshadow Flint’s troubled drinking water reputation.
“We’re going to get to a point where we can’t treat our wastewater and sewage anymore,” said Rob Bincsik, director of public works, per MLive. “We won’t have to talk about drinking water anymore, because we’ll talk about nothing but the raw sewage that gets discharged into the Flint River.”
In order to avoid this potential wastewater treatment fallout, Flint is hoping to secure a substantial water/sewer loan for the first time in more than a decade.
“Flint will seek a $34 million state sewer revolving loan to make up for cuts to capital improvements,” according to MLive. “The last time city officials took out a loan was for its water plant renovations in 2000. The city paid the first half of a $49 million loan, Bincsik said, and the state forgave the second half during the water crisis.”
Officials point to uncollected bills as the root cause of Flint’s financial struggles around water and wastewater infrastructure.
“The city projects there is $5.5 million in uncollected water bills and $5.5 million in uncollected sewer bills,” MLive reported. “Bincsik said that means 73 percent of residential water bills are collected and 92 percent of commercial water bills are collected. The lack of revenue and the cuts to the department’s budget mean it’ll be unable to do capital improvements and repairs.”
The city is hoping that improved bill collection, new water meters, and more efficient capital improvements will all help. But, in the short term, it seems that Flint is counting on loan approval to address its wastewater woes.
To read more about how municipalities allocate wastewater funding, visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.