Helping the City of Flint Find the Best Way Forward

Helping the City of Flint Find the Best Way Forward
CDM Smith helped the city of Flint, Michigan, chart a path to safe, reliable drinking water supplies by putting our top national drinking water experts on the case.

In late 2016, CDM Smith was hired by the city of Flint and the Michigan Department of Envi­ron­men­tal Quality (DEQ) to evaluate necessary upgrades to the Flint water treatment plant (WTP). The public health crisis that arose in Flint occurred when the city temporarily switched its water supply to the Flint River; CDM Smith was asked to study upgrades that would allow the city to change its raw water source to a permanent Lake Huron supply. CDM Smith was also tasked with developing a life-cycle cost analysis comparing the option of an upgraded Flint WTP to the option of purchasing finished water from either Genesee County or Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). Restoring safe, reliable drinking water to Flint is one of the most important public health concerns in the United States, and immediately became a top priority for CDM Smith.

CDM Smith assigned the firm’s most experienced drinking water profes­sion­als to the project. Experts in treating Great Lakes water from offices in Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis were named to the team, along with senior specialists from around the country with expertise in treatment, operations, maintenance and construc­tion. The team immediately began working to assess the condition of Flint’s water treatment infra­struc­ture, and used their knowledge of Great Lakes source water treatment to evaluate the options to provide safe, reliable drinking water to Flint’s citizens.

“I’ve never seen a team with this level of technical expertise, and it came together pretty much overnight,” says CDM Smith vice president Steven Wolsfeld, PE. “Our top people were on the ground within days. Finding the best way forward for Flint was a huge driver for everyone on the team.”

Our analysis asked the question: What is required for the city to obtain a resilient water supply, and how can that best be done both quickly and sustainably?

After the team spent several weeks examining the system and evaluating alter­na­tives, CDM Smith provided a final report to the city in January 2017. “We carried out a condition assessment of the entire treatment operation. We looked at the whole picture—treatment processes, pump stations, electrical and control systems, and operations and maintenance costs—to understand the best value option for Flint,” says Chris Schulz, PE, CDM Smith discipline leader for advanced oxidation and the team’s process lead. “Treating water to a high level of quality is obviously vital for any community, and in this case, it was especially important to get to the right solution for Flint, both now and for the long term.”

“Our financial analysis assessed all the factors,” says CDM Smith vice president and drinking water expert Rob Isabel, PE, BCEE. “We looked not only at short-term reha­bil­i­ta­tion costs, but also at long-term capital, power and chemical costs, and at the alter­na­tives for purchasing finished water. Our analysis asked the question, what is required for the city to obtain a resilient water supply, and how can that best be done both quickly and sustainably?”

In addition to developing treatment alter­na­tives and associated life-cycle costs, the CDM Smith team established life-cycle costs for options relating to purchasing water from both Genesee County and GLWA. These options were analyzed based on a capital annual O&M cost basis over a 20-year project life. Based on this analysis, the city determined that continuing to purchase finished water from GLWA would be the most cost-effective long-term option to provide a safe, consistent source of water to the people of Flint.

“Having this opportunity to help the city of Flint was extremely rewarding,” says Schulz. “Being part of a team of this caliber, that came together this quickly to assess the situation and provide valuable analysis to the city and DEQ is really energizing. Our team was driven by the desire to make a difference.”

Isabel adds, “We’re engineers, so it’s tempting just to think in terms of technology and process, but this was a reminder that, as water profes­sion­als, we’re really in the public health industry. Helping guide communities to the best, most sustainable solutions is always our top priority.”

Robert Isabel Robert Isabel
Helping guide communities to the best, most sustainable solutions is always our top priority.

Assembling the A-Team
CDM Smith's team included experts from a dozen states, from Michigan to Colorado to California to Mass­a­chu­setts, repre­sent­ing all key disciplines and working rapidly to provide answers.

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