The research area at the Center for Social Solutions most closely related to my field and other pursuits is “Water, Equity and Security.” I am an environmentalist, with roommates who will gladly bemoan our strict plastic-free, reuse-heavy, composting regime to prove it. As in many townships in Michigan, my home in Milford doesn’t have access to municipal water. So, a lifetime of well water and all of the accompanying metallic effects awaits; on the other hand, no water bill, other than filters and water softening salts. There is certainly a case to be made for both scenarios, so if life lands you on a map with a politically-charged, questionably sustainable, archaic municipal water system, you should be totally fine.


The Flint Water Crisis is certainly low-hanging fruit—both locally and nationwide—in terms of water issues. It is political fodder of the juiciest kind: amenable to a number of different agendas. Since starting here at CSS in January 2019, I’ve heard upwards of twenty people make initial guesses about the focus of “Water, Equity and Security” before hearing the real purpose; in fairly predictable fashion, they tend to assume that clean drinking water, social justice, and even basic human rights, are at the foreground. In a vague sense, the assumption is well-founded. However, the vision CSS has for securing equitable access to water is broader in nature. The Flint Water Crisis is merely a microcosm set on blast for the country to witness a phenomenon that will befall many towns and cities as archaic infrastructure is continuously left for somebody else to fix. Author, professor, and U-M alum Manny Teodoro spoke about this in a recent talk at Ford School of Public Policy—the primary message was that the system in place is decaying at an exponential pace, and a new theory on public-private partnerships actually paves the way for inferior water quality due to divisions and transfers of responsibility. Check out the entire talk here: Ford School - Manny Teodoro.


Political leanings aside, one major shortcoming of a democratic society is the susceptibility of our so-called “leaders” to short-term, popular policies, that tend not to involve platforms with low-visibility, foresighted expenditures that reek to the naked eye of tax dollar mismanagement and poor prioritization. With Flint fresh in our minds, however, the stage is now set in the Great Lakes region for a significant overhaul to water management and distribution practices. In fact, it was a huge component of the platform that got Gov. Gretchen Whitmer elected, with an emphasis on protecting the Great Lakes, combating environmental impacts, and modernizing infrastructure to avoid another crisis. Ultimately, other regions across the country will succumb to similar shortages and contamination issues, all compounded by climate change effects and unheeding development, but in most cases without the promise of a region-wide overhaul plan.


These issues lay at the root of my hopes for the future of water security: a regional water plan that efficiently and sustainably distributes one of the most taken-for-granted resources on this planet. In the past, water transfer plans have generally been victims of their own grandeur. The social implications of these schemes are immeasurable; from environmental disruptions to political turmoil to costliness, it is an issue that inevitably spans administrations and generations, and can thus not be solely governmental in nature, even at conception. Thus, we at CSS are seeking socially-driven forces to incite change from a grassroots foundation, as opposed to a top-down approach from the past. And for those of you accustomed to clean, affordable, city water (especially in flood- or drought-prone communities), wish us luck!