Flint as a lesson

Last week, the Flint, Michigan Fire Chief announced that the recent water crisis had come to his domain. A new truck has corroded valves and pumps, with an estimated $65,000 in needed repairs (Sabella, 2016). This is only one of many headlines coming out of the totally mismanaged situation in Flint. A federal state of emergency has been declared in an American city for lack of clean, safe drinking water, something that a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employee said “sounds like a third world country” (Michigan, 2016).  These are the sort of newspaper stories that our descendants will see as marking a time of massive crisis in the US. A major part of this story is that it is essentially the fault of managers, and not due to a climatic or unforeseeable consequence.

 

The crisis in Flint began during the Michigan financial crisis, with control of the municipal water supply being put into the hands of the state emergency manager in 2011. Following decisions by the state emergency government, water from the Flint River entered the municipal water supply, and the Detroit Water and Sewage Department no longer provides water. There were immediate complaints, about the taste, odor, and color of the water. Analysis by Marc Edwards, Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, revealed highly corrosive water (Michigan, 2016). Edwards’s team has been in Flint since at least August 2015, while Genesee County declared a state of emergency in January 2016. Some of the team’s data is publicly available (Edwards, 2016). The damage to the system has also been found to be largely permanent, with so many pipes corroding that full replacement of lead pipes will be needed. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality never installed corrosion control measures, and actually lied to the USEPA about installation of measures (Michigan, 2016).

 

The state emergency manager claimed that the move to the new water system was done as a cost saving measure, but over $100 million of aid from Federal and State governments was announced in just two days in January, 2016 to remedy the totally artificial disaster. A 2012 request by then-emergency manager in Flint, Mike Brow, for blending of Flint river water with DWSD states that blending alone would save Flint $2-3 million annually, which is only 50x less than the emergency cost that higher levels of government have given to repair the system (Michigan, 2016).

 

There was a comment in a 2013 email, by Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright, that “nobody … should have these decisions made by people who live outside their community” (Michigan, 2016). In the context, he was advocating for the switch to a new regional water system. He is reflecting an often neglected attitude that the best community decisions come from the community itself. Given the proper information, community leaders can make the right choices. However, given the wrong or incomplete information, they can make disastrous mistakes. Of course, you can have the situation in Flint where even with the information there was nothing done to fix the issue.

 

Providing the right data and analysis is the responsibility of the engineers and scientists. Local and regional professionals should understand the environmental and public health impacts of decisions made, especially regarding access to clean and safe drinking water. This can range from making sure that the water is sustainably and renewably sourced to making sure it isn’t corrosive enough to destroy your distribution system. This case should serve as a guideline for analysts in all aspects of water resource decision making. This guideline should enumerate the ethical and moral obligations of a water resources engineer, in light of the transition to hydromorphology as advocated by leading water scientists (Lall, 2014). Engineers need to take into account water quality, availability, and renewability when designing their systems. Let the lessons from Flint lead the way to institutional reform in the water resources field.

 

References

 

“Disaster Day by Day: A detailed Flint crisis timeline.” (2016). Bridge Michigan, The Center for Michigan, <http://bridgemi.com/2016/02/flint-water-disaster-timeline/&gt; (Feb. 16, 2016).

 

Edwards, M. (n.d.). “Flint Water Study.” Flint Water Study, <http://flintwaterstudy.org/&gt; (Feb. 16, 2016).

 

Lall, U. (2014). “Debates-The future of hydrological sciences: A (common) path forward? One water. One world. Many climes. Many souls.” Water Resources Research Water Resour. Res., 50(6), 5335–5341.

 

Ross, J. (2016). “In Flint, bad tap water runs politically deep.” Washington Post, The Washington Post, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/01/14/in-flint-bad-tap-water-runs-politically-deep/&gt; (Feb. 16, 2016).

 

Sabella, A. (2016). “Flint Fire Chief: Water damaging fire engine water pumps.” WJRT RSS, <http://www.abc12.com/home/headlines/flint-fire-chief-water-corroding-fire-engine-pumps-368271731.html&gt; (Feb. 16, 2016).

 

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The Irony of the Irony of Waste

After one of the largest Climate Change rallies in the world took place in New York on Sunday, a lot of the common trends of opponents to enviromental reform came out. The People’s Climate March (PCM) was accused of being trash generating monsters and hypocrites. The hypocrisy thing has been around for the past 40 years ago and would require much more than the length of what I plan to say to address, so I will give someone else the pleasure of addressing it. It is necessary to address the critique’s of the PCM charging it with being a wasteful, hypocritical event.

To begin with, there were 400,000 people present. Most of these people were Americans, and many were New Yorkers. The amount of waste that was generated is being criticized for being left in the streets and not in “trash” cans. What if there are no trash cans because the NYPD is paranoid that they’ll have to shut down the city looking for backpack bombers? Would the New York Post’s response be, “Environmentalists Bring Terrorists and Death to New York.”

The amount of waste that was generated in sad in itself. Over 150,000 signs were left in the street. That is unacceptable of people to do, and they should try to reuse them or find some way to recycle them. However, many of these signs were handed out by the organizers of the event, and not brought by people. Several of the people I spoke with said they were given signs off the side of the street when they arrived. The organizers of the event should be contributing to trash clean up if they are going to be giving out many large signs. The masses of groups selling goods and handing out free 8 oz (236 mL) water bottles are generating much more trash, and of a worse quality.

Some have pointed out these signs are made of cardboard, and that the many people present are promoting the logging industry. So, having seen a few protests in the last year and photographs of previous years, especially in the 20th century, do people ever bring signs not made out of cardboard? A friend of mine told me I should’ve brought a small piece of metal that has a lab safety warning printed on it. That would’ve been awesome, except it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be able to do that. Then again we’re not talking about people with reasonable expectations. Should everyone have bought solid plastics to write on the back of? Would they have pasted paper on the back so you could write legibly? The last I checked, trees come back in a human’s life time. Oil derivatives come back in a species’s life time. Many of the signs were also re-purposed from old cardboard. That is often what people do, since it’s free.

The real problem is the Starbucks coffee. Now why it was necessary to buy Starbucks coffee is questionable, but also reasonable in the situation many were in. It is physically exhausting to shout and cheer for several hours. My abdomen is still sore, and I’ve lost my voice. Water ran out before the march began, and we had to wait until about half way in to get more. I saw some people carrying their empty Starbucks cups looking for water refill stations. This was at about 11am. At around 2pm, a friend of mine, pretty exhausted, said to me, “Look…I can go to Starbucks for just a minute…it’s worth it.” A woman next to us looked at him and said, “Oh you’re not going there. You’re going to hold out.” He stayed with us. He didn’t get some burnt and overpriced coffee. Maybe some of the older people in the crowd couldn’t hold out and had to buy a coffee. Are they now hypocrites who aren’t allowed to comment on the status of the overall trend of the climate to be changing?

Lastly, maybe these same people should comment on the massive waste and destruction caused by other people. Here’s some mountains that don’t exist anymore.

Credits to Google Earth for the image.

Thanks, and keep on fighting.

Incredible opportunities come to those who try for them

About a year and a couple weeks ago, my great friend at the time sent me a site offering jobs “for the environment.” What are jobs for the environment I wondered? Fresh out of high school, I had spent at least the last 3 months in a heavily induced mental coma, bumming around while considering what I was gonna do in college. I had somehow slid into an engineering program at where I’m enrolled now, scoring 5’s and 4’s on AP exams I considered easy while barely getting away with a lot of things, and not getting away with some.

So, I think of how I need to get this resume together and get this pathetic excuse of a piece of paper that has my name and the fact I worked with my school’s Tech Squad on it, and my contact information. I get there…and this very excited guy with hair down to his shoulders yells for at least a half hour about fracking and the evils of it, much of which I had learned in an environmental science class. it uses a lot of waster, it can contaminate water, there’s methane leakage, it’s harvesting methane, issue on top of issue that actually make it out to be a really stupid process endorsed by some people who can’t seem past the next quarter. Which it is in all honesty.

Well, he let me go into the next room with this cute red haired woman, who had short hair with bangs and a few killer tats. She asked me her first question, why I wanted to work there. My response was about how I wanted to develop sustainable energy. Or something. Save the environment y’know? She asked me if I was comfortable fund raising. I asked her if it’s like petitioning in the street, to which said no it’s fundraising. I said yes, she told me to come in the next day. I sat down on the hot pavement outside, it being early July with no cloud cover out, and waited for my friend to come outside, who had also come in to do the interview without telling me.

He came out and said, “a hot blonde chicK” had told him they’d call him within the next day. I laughed a bit, callously telling him he’d gotten screwed. He didn’t believe me, but he did. It sucked to be him, and we ended up getting lunch with my dad. My dad didn’t buy this “Jobs for the environment” jazz either, but I still kind of did. 

A couple weeks later I was sitting in the bar next to this girl I had a crush on, telling her I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep working there – no money and constant rejection as a canvasser make for a depressing work environment. She told me to stick with it because it’d really mean something. After a game of Jeopardy in the office the guy who had briefed us on fracking that July morning asked me what I thought about some issues, and the staff gave me a few extra trial days to stay on board. I tried to get my friends to work there but none of them stuck around for long.

I moved out at the end of August after an awful fight with my family, and the first thing I did after my first class was find Morganne and talk to her and help her do anything she wanted. A couple months in a lot of stuff happened. i went to some of my first ever protests. I went to a lot of talks and seminars, meeting professionals and activists. I met a speaker who was the leading organizer for a New York based anti-fracking group and had her speak at my school. A girl I thought was cute organized a panel discussion by the political science department about the upcoming mayoral election, where the first Democrat would be elected to New York City Mayor in over 20 years. My new friends organized lots of little events and activities, everywhere. 

That cute girl and I started seeing each other around my birthday, when much to her happiness I became “legal.” I had gotten a 3.6 GPA my first semester, and survived college. That winter I dug in with my house mate Odin, smoked a ton of hookah and had that amazing girl over all the time. 

The next semester, I couldn’t dedicate nowhere as much time to NYPIRG I once had. I had registered the internship, but I was now taking harder classes and trying to set up my own club. I started tutoring someone via a program that was targeting students who were on the cusp of doing great and may need that extra kick in the behind to be A students. It was kind of crazy, and I found myself helping to organize new events while hopping into lectures and seminars and trying to become the president of a new club. 

One day there was an “engineering club fair” or something of the sort, where a lot of student chapters of professional organizations gave short presentations about what they did. One organization, the New York Water Environment Association, struck me as being exactly what I’d be interested in. I spoke with the girl who was president, and she offered to put me on the executive board next semester. I asked her where she’s working, and she helped me get a position at the lab where I now work.

At the same time as all this I ran for the board of directors of NYPIRG and came on board, for lack of a better phrase at the moment. When the summer started, I had about 3 or 4 days between my last final exam for the semester and the start of my new job as a research assistant. The next week, an office had me in it and I was studying the standard methods.  This entire time I considered myself extremely lucky and dedicated a lot of time to studying for my class and learning laboratory procedures. 

I went to the board meetings and learned a ton of financial information, especially about the budgetary process for a non-profit. I discovered great food by my school and how much I really loved the world and everything about it, even if it could be better. Also my girlfriend’s awesome.

In the past 24 hours, a lot of ridiculously awesome stuff has happened that has made me say “Holy crap I’m amazed by people.” The director of the tutoring program contacted me on Facebook to invite me to come to Washington DC for a 3 day trip, to go along with the fellowship program at my school. Meet non-profits and go to an orchestra? That sounds awesome. I spoke with my boss at work today and he said it’d be fine.

At work we were celebrating someone’s last day on the job and went out to a huge all you can eat sushi buffet. I don’t know how we moved, that was so much food. On the way to the place, I stopped off at a bank to get cash and got separated from the group. I walked into a random building looking for the restaurant and saw a Democratic congresswoman’s campaign office. Funnily enough I had spoken with her office before in disgust over her vote on a bill, one I can barely recall at the moment. They wanted to know where I was registered to vote, to which I replied, “I Know, I work for a non profit, registering voters.” The oldest man there asked me which one, to which I replied, “NYPIRG.”

He laughed and said no shit, and told me about how he had worked there for a while. He had been on the board as vice-president, representing Queens College, and had been program staff for a while. I told him I was currently a board rep at City College, and he said no shit again. Offered me a job on the spot, to which I immediately declined since I currently have an amazing job at a research lab. I was kind of amazed.

That’s what inspired me to sit down and write a little history of my time with this amazing group, that has afforded me so many opportunities and  at the same time allowed me to impact change onto the people around me. It’s some important for everybody out there to remember that people take you as seriously as you take yourself. Give it your best and someone will recognize it. Give up your time to do work you think is crappy, it can pay off. I’m not one to speak definitively on it, but try your best.

The best kind of people understand others the most and themselves the least.