McKenzie Patrice Croom Flint Community Lab Receives 2020 US Water Prize

Posted on July 17, 2020 by
(Pictured – Shelly Sparks, Flint Development Center Director, presented with the 2020 US Water Prize commemorative glass sculpture)


For Immediate Release
July 17, 2020

Petoskey and Flint, Michigan – The McKenzie Patrice Croom Flint Community Water Lab, the first of its kind in the world, provides a trusted laboratory for Flint, Michigan residents for water testing of lead and other pollutants. Through generous financial support, the Flint Community Water Lab is a space open to the entire community that unifies residents around a common issue – the safety of water in residents’ homes. Freshwater Future has been honored to partner with the Flint Development Center where the lab is housed to turn this remarkable project into a reality. This innovative approach and collaborative community involvement hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Flint Water Lab has recently been recognized with the 2020 US Water Prize for Outstanding Cross-Sector Partnership.

The project’s focus is providing residents with knowledge about the safety of their water, and resources to help people trust that their water is safe, as thousands of pipes have been replaced in the City of Flint and the system continues to improve. The lab will provide free water testing and resources in Flint to help residents navigate the myriad of information they see and hear about water quality, to ensure their families’ health.

April 2014 marked the beginning of the Flint Water Crisis. The cameras may be gone from Flint, but the real truth is that for many still living there, the crisis isn’t over. While filters are being used to reduce the lead in water, many residents still don’t have enough information to begin to trust the water again. Jill Ryan, Executive Director of Freshwater Future, notes that “Community leaders helped us realize that the key to developing trust was through a multigenerational approach including training and education for youth who could then pass that information along to adults in the process of testing homes for current lead levels.”

The importance of having a way for residents to access trusted information about the water quality in Flint became so evident that the next step was to create a permanent community lab located in a trusted facility. Freshwater Future and the Flint Development Center are currently in the final phases of configuration for The Flint Community Lab with a scheduled opening date of summer to early Fall 2020 (tentative opening based on current COVID-19 restrictions). The coordinated vision for this community lab provides Flint residents a long-term trusted source for water tests, a place where residents can go to have their water tested for lead and other heavy metals at no cost.

Residents will receive a personalized report with the results from their tap water and have the option to meet with lab staff to review the findings. The reports will emphasize the importance and need of using filters and filter maintenance as well as helping uncover needed pipe or fixture changes within residents’ homes. Jill Ryan states that this project’s ultimate goal is “Having a lab that is based in Flint, operated by Flint residents, with the purpose of serving Flint residents, and embracing the resilience of Flint residents to keep working to solve their problems.”

Shelly Sparks, Director of the Flint Development Center, hopes that “The community lab will provide an opportunity for Flint to be a model as an innovative approach for the community to take the lead to gather data, analyze, and find solutions to our future water issues.” With the lab fully functional, teams of students and adults will continue to take and analyze water samples, survey homeowners, and provide filter, fixture and plumbing education. The Water Lab will provide opportunities to communicate with youth and help expand the learning in other cities who are also dealing with lead issues, such as Detroit and Benton Harbor.

The success of this project to date is due to the commitment and involvement of its community partners including Freshwater Future, the Flint Development Center, Genesee County Latino Hispanic Collaborative, Flint Neighborhoods United, the University of Michigan Biological Station and the City of Flint, as well as a committee of local residents who help guide the process. While there are too many individuals and organizations to mention that have stepped forward to financially support the lab, we do want to give special thanks to major supporters: Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Hagerman Foundation, the Crown Family Philanthropies, and Nalgene Water Fund.

For more information, please visit Flint Development Center at and Freshwater Future at

For more information contact:
Jill M. Ryan,
Shelly Sparks,


© 2021 Freshwater Future. All Rights Reserved.

Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.