If Flint is the Tip of the Iceberg…

…Where Do I Steer My Boat?

Those who saw The Big Short may have noticed that Christian Bale’s character – real life hedge fund manager Michael Burry – moved from examining the housing market to water. Coincidence? Probably not. If one of the few guys who saw the financial crisis coming now builds his portfolio around this scarce commodity, it’s time to ask a few questions.

The biggest water-related headline these days is Flint, Michigan. It may seem like a leap to go from the abstractions of Wall Street to the very real fears of Flint parents. Yet the essential nature of water relies on our ability to access it. And although Flint is an extreme case, it is not an isolated incident. In Jackson, Mississippi, health officials have advised children and pregnant women to stop drinking tap water. From DC to Chicago, Providence to Greenville, aging infrastructure has led to contaminated drinking water quite a few times over the years.

Any hazardous lead level is, well, hazardous. Approximately 6.5 million lead pipes – many reaching the critical 95-year mark – are still in use. (Remarkably, this a relatively low proportion – though significant, especially when concentrated in single locales.) If this concerns you, you are probably not so keen to rely on the charity of Beyoncé or Cher (or Diddy or Wahlberg) after the fact, no matter how generous or appreciated their donations have been.

There is some movement at the national level to find the funds to start making infrastructure changes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has some information to learn more about the science, regulations, and what to do in your own home. The CDC also has a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program that has been looking into the issue for decades. Or you might prefer to take a local approach – many states have an agency that addresses these issues, such as Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

We might also learn something from our neighbors to the north. Back in 2010, Toronto looked into replacing lead pipes in the city – and some research conducted at Virginia Tech University that demonstrated replacing only part of the pipe would not resolve contamination issues. In fact, civil engineer Charles Marohn suggests that building a new system might be more cost effective than replacing the old ones.

But at the end of the day, you ought not to worry alone. Let us help you talk to your neighbors that are having the same thoughts you are – compare notes, reach out to the right officials, and find out what actions you need to take next. Who knows, you might be able to enjoy your water free of concern, but if not, you will have a whole community behind you.

Community Connection Template

Note: Obviously, the above is just a hypothetical template – to go with the sample “solutions” approach to the water crisis story – that someone with more programming skills than me might turn into a real mechanism to organize people around issues of shared concern.