Parker Wallis & Reinette LeJeune
In April 2014, officials in Flint, Michigan switched the water supply to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure for the struggling city, introducing lead-poisoned water into homes. The resulting crisis is just one of several plaguing Michigan’s water supply.
Michigan is home to 23% of the world’s freshwater, and 77% of Michigan’s population obtains their drinking water from about 1,400 community water supply systems, with the rest supplied by non-community water supply systems and private wells. Residents remain uncomfortable drinking from their taps, rivers, or lakes. Communities such as Ann Arbor, Flint, Oscoda Township, and twelve other counties are currently in express need to address the contamination, via source-switching or enhanced treatment, with the state regularly advising boiling water before consumption. Toxicants are reaching dangerous levels – Hexavalent chromium (a carcinogen), byproducts of chlorine disinfection, natural radioactive materials, and arsenic are being found in local sources at levels reaching federal limits.
Part of the problem comes from the state’s water infrastructure age. Eighty percent of Detroit’s water supply system, for example, was installed prior to 1940, and with decades-long under-investment in maintenance and repairs, particularly within disadvantaged communities, officials now face a daunting list of challenges. The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, responsible for identifying strategic practices to modernize the state’s transportation, water and sewer, energy and communications infrastructure, determined an additional $4 billion annually is needed to maintain our infrastructure, warning that failure to adequately fund drinking water infrastructure could lead to major crises affecting millions of residents.
Governor Whitmer, as well as other state officials, have been adamant in calling for investments to fix the damages caused by past inaction and disinvestment. In March 2021, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus that helped Michigan reinvest in our communities. In November, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed, directing $1.3 billion to Michigan’s water infrastructure. In early December, the Michigan Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 565, which will invest $3.3 billion of available ARP and IIJA funds into Michigan’s water and water infrastructure. These bills have afforded Michigan a historic budget surplus that can now be used to shape the future of our state’s economy, natural resources, and public health and wellbeing.
Additionally, there are several bills working through the Michigan legislature designed to help smaller, more rural and other disadvantaged communities’ access federal water infrastructure money. Those funds are being dispersed through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund over the next five years. “These are tough times for families, small businesses, and communities, and this supplement will help grow our economy, create jobs, and invest in every region of our state,” Governor Whitmer said.