Monthly Archives: January 2016

Flint Water

Flint Water

Flint Water

After 30 years in the water industry, I thought I should give my take on the Flint, Michigan water crisis.  There is a misconception that the water from the Flint River the state emergency manager switched to is poisonous.  Not true.  Properly treated, the Flint River water is fine, and would meet all safe drinking water standards.   

The problem is that the water was not properly treated.  As it comes from the river, the water is corrosive and attacks metals in the distribution system pipes.  To be safe, it must be treated to make it less corrosive.  There are chemical additives (phosphates) that coat the pipes and prevent lead and copper from leaching into the water.  Here in Denver, lime or soda ash are added to raise the pH  of the water, making it less corrosive.  In addition, over time a thin film of calcium carbonate forms on the inside of the pipes, effectively sequestering the toxic metals. The phosphate chemicals do the same thing. 

How can you tell if your water is safe?  The corrosive water also attacks the rust that forms in an old system, such as in Denver or Flint.  If your water is red, it has rust, but also lead and copper.  The lead and copper come from the pipes, not the river.  The rust won’t hurt you, just stain your fixtures.  The lead comes from lead solder (now outlawed) used to join copper pipes and from lead pipes once used to bring water from the main into the house.  The lead service lines are slowly going away, but many houses have galvanized steel pipes into the house.  These are safe, but that steel pipe won’t bend to attach to the tap on the main, which is high on the pipe to keep sediment out of the service line.  The solution, a flexible lead loop bending from the tap to the service line.   

Corroded Pipe

Corroded Pipe

In Denver some older houses have lead service lines, but the lead loops are more common.  My entire neighborhood in South Denver with houses dating from the Victorian era to the 1940’s has lead loops.  Most of them are replaced when the old galvanized pipes rust out and there is a leak.  Our house has a copper service line now.  Several houses on the block have had their old service lines replaced since we have lived there.  Look where the water line comes into your house.  If it is copper, you are OK.  Flint has the same situation. 

Aggressive water leaches lead and copper out of the pipes and renders the water toxic.  Lead is the most dangerous, as it is a neurotoxin especially dangerous for developing fetuses and young children.  Copper is also toxic, but copper pipes are more resistant to corrosion than lead. 

If you have red water in your house, it is possibly dangerous and needs to be tested.  The Flint water is not just red, it’s red mud.   Before the Safe Drinking Water Act, many small water systems had aggressive water.  As a kid, I watched red water flow into our bathtub, especially in the spring, when the water was mostly runoff.  Maybe that is why I am nuts, as well as the rest of us from Fruita.

How did this happen in Flint?  Flint has a treatment plant, but was using water from Detroit which has good corrosion control.  Flint has plans to switch from the Flint River to Lake Huron  as their water source.  Lake Huron water is higher quality than river water, making it less expensive to treat.  Detroit water is from Lake Huron.  The Michigan emergency manager for Flint ordered the switch to river water to save money.   

Flint is broke.  The demise of much of the U.S. Auto industry hit Flint hard, a General Motors town.  The result, white flight, leaving a population mostly poor and black.  The city couldn’t pay its bills and the state took over with a team appointed by the Governor.  Here is the root of the problem.  The federal Safe Drinking Water Act establishes standards for drinking water.  The law gives the states the option to administer the law, usually by the Health Department or the Environmental Quality Department.   

So, the State government is running the Flint government and water treatment process and is also charged with insuring the water is safe, a clear conflict of interest.  A wild card?  Racism.  Those poor black people did not have much political clout and were essentially ignored and belittled when they complained about their water.  It took a brave pediatrician seeing high lead levels in her patients to finally get action. 

Four governmental entities are involved.  The Flint city government was rendered superfluous when the state assumed control.  The federal EPA was passing the buck to the Michigan Environmental Quality Department and not doing due diligence in making sure the department was doing its job (the EPA administrator lost his job).  The state environmental quality regulators knew there was a problem, but were influenced by the Governor’s emergency management.  The result, a perfect bureaucratic storm, with the people of Flint as victims. 

The cost?  A public health crisis that will cost millions to fix.  It takes a long time for the calcium carbonate or phosphate coating to form in the pipes.  In the meantime the water is unsafe.  The people of Flint will have to be provided with bottled water for some time.  Lots of bureaucratic fingers are being pointed.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  Will anyone go to jail?  Probably not, even though there is now a special prosecutor.  If the local Flint city government had been simply subsidized by the state until it got its house in order, the whole thing could probably been avoided.  Instead the emergency managers put money ahead of the public health.     

Many conservatives want to reduce the size of government, and return to the nineteenth century, before there was water treatment and people died of waterborne disease.  Government built a system to protect public health.  If government does not have the money do do its job, the public health will suffer.  Do you want safe water?  Don’t move to Flint.



Fantasy Football

Andrew Luck, no luck for us.

Andrew Luck, no luck for us.

This year Carol and I played fantasy football with some friends and family members.  High rollers, the entry fee was ten bucks.  Our team was The Front Range Fogies.  We are not big football fans.  Here in Denver it is necessary to follow the Broncos out of self defense and Carol lived in Green Bay for a while.  I don’t think I could tell you the names of all the latest expansion teams.

I was resistant to the idea at first, remembering the guys at work spending hours poring over injury reports in order to come up with a team each week.  The big change since then is the software.  We used ESPN’s program.  It does the record keeping and scoring for you, provides team rosters and available players, and informed information on players.  We also got a good app that is great at comparing prospective players.

Given all that we lost big.  We just didn’t quite know what we were doing and the results showed.  The season was quite a process, however.

First, the draft.  The usual strategy is to choose running backs and wide receivers because they are the point producers and the high injury turnover.  We didn’t know that and picked Andrew Luck, theoretically the best quarterback in the league.  Not so this year.  We also had Peyton Manning for a while. Wrong.  I don’t even know who we ended up with.  We picked the Bronco defense and kicker, fairly good choices. We were weak in running backs and wide receivers out of ignorance and inexperience.  We stayed weak there.



I came away from the season with two insights.  One, fantasy football is fun, and we watched a lot of football.  It is a great way to stay in touch with others without having to talk about who is sick or did something stupid.

Two, the injuries.  NFL Football has a one hundred percent injury rate.  The injury rate for the wide receivers and running backs is just appalling.  We spent a lot of time searching for uninjured players we could pick up.  The durable players were already on the other team’s rosters.  Of course we also lost Luck and Manning.  There is a lot of press about head injuries, but they are just on the top of the list.  Modern gladiators, those players, sacrificing their bodies and brains for money.

Change in that area will be slow, because the violence is what appeals to a lot of the fans, and the fan’s money is what drives this huge industry.  Fifty dollars per seat, 80,000 seats, you do the math.  TV also provides a huge amount to the teams, and the networks sell lots of ads.  The players are just raw material.

Of course, the players make lots of money but the price is the damage to their bodies and brains.  Seldom does a player go all season without an injury.  Seldom does a player last more than three or four years.  We hear about the Mannings and Bradys, but they are the exceptions.  The players with the press are survivors.  The rest are the victims.

So, will we do fantasy football again?  Probably, it gives us contact with friends and family in a low key competition.  Are we as fans part of the problem with football?  Our money certainly is.

February 8, the Broncos won the Super Bowl.  We are happy.  The whole NFL business is still crazy.  $28.00 for a t-shirt?


Radicalism seems to be common among Republican Presidential candidates.  Radicals want to make sweeping changes in government rapidly rather than progressive change. 

The most radical is Donald Trump.  He seems to want to create a warring dictatorship, with no room for dissent.  The word for that is fascism, accompanied with the lowest form of demagoguery.  There is precedent for those people in American politics.  George Wallace, Joe McCarthy, Father Coughlin, David Duke, and Huey Long are examples.  



The current crop of radicals have a different agenda.  They are fundamentalist Christians who are believers in a doctrine common for over two thousand years.  They see the turmoil of human affairs as signs that we are in the end times.  The turmoil will escalate into the battle of Armageddon, followed by the rapture and the second coming. 

Apocalyptic literature has always been with us, but The Judeo-Christian literature is especially rife with dire prophesies.  Today’s Christian radicals take most of their inspiration from the books of Revelation and Matthew, written around the end of the first century predicting the fall of the Roman Empire.   There is a lot of ancient apocalyptic literature, the Bible is not unique in this.  There is also a lot of allegory not exclusive to the Bible.   

When I was engaged in extensive Bible study, I also watched televangelists talking about the end times, and how biblical prophesy is about to be fulfilled.  People have been talking about the end times since the latter part of the first century, when the New Testament was written.  Rome destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.  That catastrophe was the beginning of the Jewish diaspora, and turmoil continued in Palestine.  The prophesies were written then, and referred to Rome.   

Biblical Battle of Armageddon

Biblical Battle of Armageddon

My view is that attempting to apply those prophesies to today is repeating the mistake Christians have been making since the New Testament was written.  There was end time hysteria in the first and second centuries, around 1000 AD, and beginning in the nineteenth century when mostly American writers began looking into biblical prophesy.  Many dates chosen for the rapture, Armageddon, and the Second Coming have come and gone.  Christ continues to tarry.  The establishment of the State of Israel was seen as the biggest portent, and that it would all happen within a generation.  Nope. 

Now it is the continuing conflict in the Middle East which will culminate in a climactic battle between the U.S. and Russia at Megiddo.  This is the reason for fundamentalist support for Israel.  They see Israel as the flash point for a general war and then Armageddon. 

 Michelle Bachmann, Oral Roberts University Law School

Michelle Bachmann, Oral Roberts University Law School Graduate

Most of the Republican candidates subscribe to this view.  Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin have spoken explicitly about this view.  Most of the current candidates who call themselves evangelicals believe in the end times, but don’t talk about explicitly, remembering what happened to Bachmann and Palin. 

Radicalism dominates Republican Presidential nomination campaigning.  The idea is as radical as forming European Christian armies to take Jerusalem in 1099 AD.  The enemy is the same, Islam.  The goal is the same, establishing Christian rule.   A secondary goal is establishing a Christian theocracy in the U.S.  We don’t hear a lot of talk about these overall strategies, but the specific policy statements point in that direction.  Abortion, gay marriage, invading Iraq and Syria to destroy ISIS and confront Putin, increasing defense spending, and defunding the opposition (Working People), are the real goals.  Oh, and making rich people richer.

Watch out, folks, read between the lines, and watch Trump confound everyone with his flag waving racism.  Be especially aware of the prophesy believers.  They want to impose their religious beliefs on the world.