Category Archives: News

The Irony and Tragedy of Failed City Infrastructure Laid Bare by Poor Decision-Making

Old pipes, faded records and a devil-may-care decision process

When are you gonna fix it? And I mean fix it right,” asks Hattie Collins of city and state government officials of Flint Michigan in a recent NPR report by Ari Shapiro

The task of fixing corroded water pipes after officials allowed the pipes to poison the city water supply becomes even more unsettling when experts set about measuring the scale of the problem.

In his report, Shapiro spoke with Marty Kaufman, a professor of Earth and resource science at the University of Michigan. Charged with the task of actually getting a grasp of the scale of the problem, Kaufman requested records from the city to show which homes of the 100,000 Flint residents had lead pipes, “as-builts” as they’re called in the construction and civil engineering industry.

What Kaufman was shown was a file drawer filled with 45,000 index cards, each written in pencil, noting which homes had lead or copper feeder pipes.

One of the big problems is they were written in pencil, so they were smeared quite a bit too,” Kaufman told Shapiro in his report. 

Fix the records, then fix the problem

Before anyone could even begin to really fix the problem of the poisoned water in Flint, the issues of faded, outdated deteriorating as-built records had to be fixed.

Once parcel maps are pieced together and scanned into a computer, the 1980’s era data must be “field-checked” for accuracy.

Only then can any real action begin to fix the pipes in Flint.

Third-worldly

Laura Sullivan knows about getting clean water to communities that don’t have it.  A professor at Kettering University in Flint, Sullivan has worked on clean water projects all over the world. That expertise has suddenly been called upon by state officials.

Sullivan cares deeply about the issue of the human right for access to clean water. The tragic irony for her is that she must now address it in her own home town.

When faced with the questions of citizens like Hattie Collins –“when you gonna fix it” Sullivan struggles for an answer. In fact, there is no firm answer, but Sullivan hopes the attention the problem is getting will be the urgently needed catalyst for change.

“What I can tell you is I firmly believe that the light is shining so brightly on the city of Flint right now, that if there were any entity that had any negative or malicious reason to slow things down, there’s no way they could do that,” Sullivan says. “And if there’s any entity that has the ability to make things right, they’re being empowered to do that.”

Read or listen to Shapiro’s full report on NPR here.

Image credit: Trendingnator.com under creative commons license 

Building on the Sustainable Development Goals

2015 was arguably a banner year for sustainable development. With the signing of the Paris Agreement at COP21 and adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations in September, the path is laid out for how we might develop sustainable and equitable economies across the globe.

Of course, that’s easier said that done. But tools and methods are already in place to make good on the promise.

When I was in Paris for COP21, I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Meehan, CEO of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). GRI has pioneered the methods and standards of corporate global sustainability reporting.

What we discussed in Paris, however, went far beyond that. Meehan explained how the future of GRI is in bringing the power of information and realtime data to policy, economic, social and environmental decisions throughout global organizations. Essentially “baking sustainability” into the process.

Read about sustainability “beyond the report” and the SDG Compass in my recent article for TriplePundit.