Improving the Grade: Tackling Contamination in the Nation’s Aging Water Systems - Onvia

In 2013, Flint city officials disconnected their water source from Detroit’s system and elected to source water from the Flint River until a pipeline from Lake Huron was complete. A month after the switchover, Flint’s citizens were complaining that the water tasted different, had a chlorine-like smell, and was murkier than the water from Detroit. Soon, scientists found the water citizens were drinking had failed to meet the Safe Water Drinking Act standards, and there was a spike in lead levels. Moreover, people—particularly children—who were using the water in their bathtubs were getting skin rashes.

Not only did we find dangerous levels of lead in bathwater, but we found dangerous levels of volatile chemicals including chloroform, methylene chloride, and other trihalomethanes in bathroom sinks and showers.

Scott Smith, CTO and Investigator for Water Defense

The City of Flint, Michigan, has become the example for the effects of poor water quality and the impact of aging water infrastructure on citizens. But, the buzz around the crisis in Flint may have jumpstarted efforts to protect other citizens across the country from contamination.

Cities Across the Country Push to Fix the Nation’s Drinking Water After Flint

The national attention that Flint received may have helped other citizens by prompting officials to create plans of action to prevent further contamination of the nation’s drinking water.

Top cities issuing contracts related to water purification - Onvia


As identified in Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center, the Southern California Water Replenishment District’s Annual Budget for 2015-16 shows that the agency is investing $100,000 in groundwater infrastructure improvements in fiscal years 2015-2016 and an additional $10.7 million for its regional groundwater monitoring program. The funds are for constructing 11 new monitoring wells and data collection equipment.

Like in the case of Flint’s water system, the systems that Americans use for getting their drinking water must be upgraded or expanded to meet environmental requirements. In its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s drinking water system a “D” grade. “Not meeting the investment needs of the next 20 years risks reversing the environmental, public health, and economic gains of the last three decades,” the report card stated.

With international attention on Flint, increased investments needed to improve that “D” grade appears to be gaining ground across the county.

The Issue of Aging Water Systems Has Become a Priority for State and Local Officials

In Onvia’s latest report, 10 Hotspots in Government Contracting for 2016, research from Onvia’s database identified growth rates of more than 20% for bids & RFPs related to addressing aging water systems over the last two years and state, local and educations government (SLED) agencies across the country are working hard to prevent another Flint like crisis. reported in January that the City of Philadelphia wasn’t following federal guidelines as they monitored lead contamination in the water mains of older homes and is a typical example of a city in the U.S. that has many ‘leaks’ to fix. Onvia’s Spending Forecast revealed other examples of plans taking shape elsewhere in the country including at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’:

In its Proposed FY2017 and 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan the university plans to focus more on mitigation efforts to deal with contaminated groundwater by the Kenai River on the southern Kenai Peninsula. The use of fire suppressant during fire trainings conducted in the area in the 1980’s left the region contaminated. It wasn’t noticed until 2012 when the city performed remediation work for diesel contaminants in the area.

Some cities are also thinking two steps ahead of the problem by investing in water quality surveillance systems.

The City of Seattle in Washington recently adopted a fiscal year 2015-2020 capital improvement plan that includes $500,000 to install water quality monitoring equipment throughout the drinking water distribution system. The equipment will also enhance the city’s surveillance system that checks on quality, security and public health assurances of drinking water.

Contractors Have an Opportunity to Help Protect the Next Generation from Contamination

The news about Flint brought increased attention and awareness of the nation’s aging water systems. As a result more cities and towns will be investing funds into addressing these concerns. Businesses who work in the transportation and utilities industries—specifically well drilling and water supply and road construction too—will benefit from the increased push for water purification systems, testing and repairs.