FLINT, MI — The city needs to study further the cost of reconnecting to the Detroit water system versus continuing to use the Flint River, an investigator who works with activist Erin Brockovich says.

Bob Bowcock, who toured the Flint water plant and joined in a City Hall water protest last week, made the recommendation and 15 others in a Monday, Feb. 17, letter to Mayor Dayne Walling and the City Council.

Bowcock has worked with Erin Brockovich for several years and came to Flint at the request of the environmental activist. He is the founder of Integrated Resource Management Inc. of Claremont, Calif.

The recommendations cover the water plant, distribution system, rates, and source water, and suggestions include discontinuing the practice of fluoridation, removing more organic material from Flint River water before chlorination, and taking at least one storage reservoir out of of service.

“While my visit focused on the water supply and immediate concerns for the health and safety of the community water supply, the following recommendations are broader in scope and meant to be purely constructive,” the letter says.

Walling, who met with Bowcock during his visit to Flint, called the recommendations “thoughtful” and deserving of further consideration.

Although emergency manager Jerry Ambrose continues to make budget and personnel decisions for the city, Walling said he and the council have “a responsibility to advocate for the best interests of the community and to put forward our plans.”

“We all share the goal of 100 percent safe water, and it is going to take a number of changes for that to be assured going into the summer,” the mayor said.

As water temperatures rise, so does the potential for bacteria in water, city and state officials have said.

One of the water system’s issues in 2014 involved Flint’s use of chlorine to battle bacteria, and a byproduct of that disinfection — the level of total trihalomethanes (TTHM) in water.

The city notified customers last month that it was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act because of excess TTHM in the water supply in 2014.

Councilman Wantwaz Davis said the city needs to seriously consider the “sound solutions” that have been suggested by Bowcock for resolving that SDWA violation.

“That could bring … comfort to residents, and all that (information and advice) was given to us for free,” Davis said.

Several members of council have suggested Flint return to purchasing already treated water from the city of Detroit until the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline to Lake Huron is complete.

The new pipeline is expected to supply Flint and Genesee County with raw water from Lake Huron starting in 2016.

Ambrose has said the additional cost of buying water from Detroit — $1 million a month — is one reason not to revert to purchasing Lake Huron water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

The emergency manager has also said the city no longer has a direct connection to the Detroit system because Flint sold a section of transmission pipe to Genesee County last year.

Bowcock’s letter says the city should “conduct a detailed cost-of-treatment assessment of the Flint River water treatment plant and compare it directly to the cost per unit of water purchased from Detroit.

“Publish said results and allow for public input as to the choice of water supplied based upon actual costs versus quality,” the letter says.

Bowcock’s recommendations come as the city’s paid consultant — Veolia North America — is expected to make a report about Flint water to the City Council during a committee meeting at 4:30 p.m. today at City Hall. Veolia will receive $40,000 under the contract with the city.

Here is the full list of recommendations in Bowcock’s letter to Walling and the council:

  • Update and implement the Source Water Protection Plan.
  • Define and identify groundwater quality and quantity inflow variables to the Flint River, specifically from the contaminated sources identified adjacent to the river.
  • Define and identify reservoir release surface water quality and quantity variables to the Flint River, specifically from the Holloway Reservoir.
  • Thoroughly evaluate the Detroit Water Supply quality characteristics.
  • Conduct a detailed “cost of treatment assessment” of the Flint River Water Treatment Plant and compare it directly to the cost per unit of water purchased from Detroit. Publish said results and allow for public input as to the choice of water supplied based upon actual costs versus quality.
  • Optimize the ozone disinfection system.
    • Discontinue the use of sodium bisulfate to reduce pH in the ozone contact chamber.
    • Trust the Plant Operator to use the optimum amount of ferric chloride required for
    • Investigate the use (jar tests) of ferric chloride and various water treatment polymers
    to reduce the use of corrosive ferric chloride.
    • Discontinue the practice of lime softening. Continue the flow through the softener
    facility and consider adding a low dose of filter aid (additional polymer) as necessary
    during seasonal high turbidity.
    • Discontinue the practice of fluoridation.
    • Discontinue the practice of recarbonation.
    • Discontinue the use of pre-filtration chlorine.
    • Remove the anthracite coal media from the filter beds and replace it with a granular
    activated carbon (GAC) material. There are specifically engineered products for use
    in dual media filters. The use of GAC for organic Trihalomethanes (THM) precursor
    removal will immediately reduce THM formation in the drinking water supply.
    • Post chlorinate disinfect based on residual demand requirements. Post chlorination
    will not be as intensive as the organic material will be dramatically reduced. The
    GAC will also serve as a barrier to other types of contamination events (petroleum,
    chemical, and algae blooms).
    Distribution System Operations
    • Complete development of the water distribution hydraulic flow model.
    • Immediately increase distribution system velocities.
    • Re-engineer the distribution system to encourage directional sediment transport for evacuation of system contaminates (sludge, biofilm, sediment, and other debris). This will further aid in chlorine demand management.
  • Take at least one of the water system storage reservoirs out of service. Thoroughly clean the storage reservoir, perhaps a program of alternative years of service. With the 2 MG elevated tank, perhaps both reservoirs could be removed from service this year.
  • Prepare a budget that accounts for all fixed/variable debts: loans, capital depreciation of infrastructure, retirement system obligations, etcetera. This will allow the community to understand exactly where it stands in relation to its debt obligations… before one drop of water is produced. The total of the compilation can then be divided among the consumers based on number and class size of services. It is simple, straightforward, and easily understood.
  • Prepare a budget that accounts for all commodity/variable costs: salaries, chemicals, energy, contract services, etcetera. This will allow the community to understand exactly where it stands as it relates to the cost of water. Using historic production and sales numbers, project a water sales figure and divide the commodity costs among the units; this is the true cost of water.