The problem can be traced to a combination of:
- An underfunded, shrinking system (from 45k HH in 1999 to 36k in 2011 [pdf])
- Old pipes/underserved network (30% NRW!)
- A switch of water supplies that changed pipe chemistry and increased lead leaching
- Managers who are too indifferent, incompetent or overworked to run the system.
This is a farce in one of America's most poor and violent cities (thanks for pointing that out, Mr. Moore)
I thus suggest that the people of Flint be paid $50,000/household (that's about $2 billion) to move to the neighboring city Detroit, where property is cheap, it's possible to move neighborhoods "intact"** and the water department is desperately seeking customers.
Bottom Line: Let's make lemonade! Move the people from Flint to Detroit so they can drink the water, communities intact, and strengthen a "better" city.
* My understanding: The city switched supplies from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which had lower quality and -- more important -- interacted with pipes, to destabilize them and increase lead leeching. This "could have been prevented" by spending $100 on additives, but that was not done. Now, after switching back to lake water, the pipes are still destabilized, thereby calling into question the entire system's function. One solution -- replacing the city's pipes -- is projected to cost $1.5-$2 billion.
** NB: Some people benefitted from their flight from dysfunctional neighborhoods in New Orleans, so it may not be the best idea to keep "violent poor" neighborhoods intact, but you can see the political drawbacks of such an opinion.
Addendum (Sep 2016): Excellent background article/graphic on the slow train wreck that finally developed into a national scandal.