U.S. Cities Aren’t Ready To Fend Off The Next Flint

The report was alarming to Erik Olson, a senior advisor at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Action Fund. 

“We really have not been investing [in water infrastructure]. We’ve not been keeping up with this,” Olson told HuffPost.

While the GAO report focused on a small number of cities, the national need for water infrastructure investments appears similarly massive. According to the American Water Works Association, a water safety advocacy group, the overall need to restore the nation’s existing water systems will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years. The EPA has estimated current water infrastructure needs at a more conservative but still massive $600 billion.

Delaying these sorts of investments will likely result in increased water service disruptions and degraded water service, plus an increasing share of utilities’ limited resources going toward emergency repairs rather than needed upgrades and expansions, the AWWA has reported.

Such is the reality for the residents of Flint in recent years, following the cost-saving decision to switch the city’s water source from the Detroit water system to the polluted, highly corrosive Flint River in 2014.

The water in Flint remains unsafe to drink more than two years after the city’s water troubles began and a year after they became public. And many Flint residents are struggling to pay their water bills, which were flagged by an advocacy group as among the highest in the nation.

On a more encouraging note, Olson described the needed investments as a potential “win-win” for communities like Flint that have struggled with high poverty and joblessness.

“If we invest in our future, we not only have safer water for us and our kids, but we also create a lot of jobs, good jobs, good American jobs,” Olson said. “It will be good for labor and jobs, but also really good for the environment and public health. This would be a really smart thing to do.”


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email

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