By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online
Officials in the state of Michigan have voiced concern over the City of Flint’s ability to manage its water system, more than two years since it startled struggling with lead contamination.
Specifically, the concerns boil down to Flint’s ability to attract and retain qualified labor to run its system.
“The city faces numerous challenges in staffing its limited water treatment plant,” Eric Oswald, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division director, wrote to the U.S. EPA in a late December letter, per MLive. “As you know, the aging nature of their infrastructure, along with a general negative reputation, make it even more difficult to attract qualified candidates to Flint.”
The letter followed concerns raised by the EPA last year that Flint’s water system had too few employees. For instance, the agency wanted to see an existing employee move into the role of operator in charge of the city water plant, but that never came to fruition.
“Both Kristin Moore, a city spokeswoman, and Tiffany Brown, a DEQ spokeswoman, said the effort to use an existing employee as operator in charge of the water plant failed because the employee the city planned to use failed a certification exam,” per MLive. “Flint is currently using a contractor to fill water system positions including operator in charge.”
But that hardly seems like a permanent solution and one that is already causing issues in Flint.
“In July, a water plant employee warned his supervisors in a written report that a lack of knowledge and potential burnout among water system employees were contributing to mistakes at the city’s water treatment plant,” MLive reported.
It’s difficult to say what Flint can do to attract new, qualified workers. Although it’s made a lot of progress since declaring a state of emergency over lead contamination, the labor issue will need to be solved before it can be considered completely recovered.
“Flint has the money it needs to fix its water system,” according to an editorial from The Detroit News. “Clear leadership is now necessary to keep recovery efforts moving efficiently.”
To read more about how water utilities staff their plants visit Water Online’s Labor Solutions Center.
Image credit: "City of Flint 1955 Sign with Citizens Bank Weather Ball," Michigan Municipal League © 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/