Governor Rick Snyder put the figure at $700 million to fix Flint's lead contamination problem.  Officials and water experts are hopeful that there is a less drastic and far cheaper step, using a chemical to recoat existing pipes and contain the lead.

The problem is that nobody knows how badly the pipes were damaged after the state's disastrous decision in 2014 to use the Flint River as the city's drinking water source without adding a chemical to control corrosion.

That caused lead to enter into the water for a year and a half and contributed to a spike in child lead poisoning before city and state officials fully acknowledged the problem.

The EPA, which said this week that it would take over lead sampling in the city, that the Flint treatment plant has greatly increased the level of phosphate in order to more quickly coat the insides of the city's pipes.  An agency task force plans to go to Flint to try to determine how badly damaged they are.

It could take a long time to determine the actual costs of fixing the disaster in this financially struggling city, where more than 40 percent of people live in poverty.