Whitmer announces $500 million plan to improve water quality in Michigan

Governor Whitmer announces MI Clean Water initiative
Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 8:17 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the “MI Clean Water” program on Thursday. She says the $500 million dollars will help rebuild the state’s water infrastructure.

The money is going to be used in a lot of different ways.

The goal of the MI Clean Water initiative is to fix some of the huge infrastructure problems Michigan faces. That includes helping replace Jackson’s lead service, which Mayor Derek Dobies says is not cheap.

“We have between 11,000 to 13,000 lead service lines and the cost to replace those with the inspection program, along with replacing other infrastructure like roads, is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $180-million to $200 million dollars,” said Dobies.

The MI Clean Water Plan also puts money toward cleaning up toxic contamination like PFAS, replacing undersized sewers and failing septic systems and helping keep water rates affordable.

“These funds are going to help us in lead service line replacement, stabilize our city utility finances and keep water affordable at a time where residents need it most,” said Dobies.

The Lansing Board of Water and Light has already replaced its lead service lines so BWL instead is looking at using the money for testing water main replacement.

“We are currently replacing water mains working up to 8 miles a year but it’s very expensive,” said Dick Peffley the general manager at BWL. “It will help us delivery clean safe drinking water,” said BWL General Manager Dick Peffley.

And Peffley says it helps the BWL plan for the next year.

“We are in the fall and we are winding down on construction but you are in the planning stage for next year so maybe we can put an extra mile or two mile next construction season,” said Peffley.

Marc Edwards is an environmental engineer and his work in 2015 helped prove there were high lead levels in Flint’s drinking water and that the state was ignoring it.

But for as critical as Edwards has been of the state in the past, he’s praising this new plan.

On Thursday, he told News 10 using the money to replace lead service lines, clean up contamination and improve septic systems will make Michigan an example for the rest of the country.

“It is sad that Flint had to occur for Michigan to start investigating, but they recently became a model in terms of the new lead and copper. And, now with this infrastructure package, I’m going to point to Michigan as a good example for other states," said Edwards.

The Governor says around $200 will be spent improving drinking water quality while nearly 300 million goes towards wastewater protection.

Below is the breakdown of the Governor’s plan:

The program is broken down into two parts for drinking water quality and wastewater system protection.

The drinking $207 million drinking water portion includes:

  • $102 million for low-income communities to replace lead water service lines like those that contributed to contamination during the Flint water crisis.
  • $37.5 million for drinking water assessment grants.
  • $35 million for drinking water grants for systems not affected by lead.
  • $25 million for PFAS and emerging contaminants consolidation grants.
  • $7.5 million for drinking water affordability and planning grants.

The $293 million wastewater infrastructure protection portion includes:

  • $235 million for promoting clean water by eliminating sewer overflows, correcting combined sewage overflows and increasing green infrastructure.
  • $35 million to eliminate failing septic systems.
  • $20 million for removing direct and continuous raw sewage discharges from surface or groundwater.
  • $3 million for stormwater, asset management and wastewater grants.

Whitmer hopes the Michigan Legislature will approve spending the remainder of the state’s Great Lakes Water Quality bond money, which voters statewide approved in 2002 to fund parts of the MI Clean Water Investment program. Federal funds also would be tapped for part of the investment.

“Michiganders are tired of waiting for action. The time is now,” she said. “We must all work together to improve the quality of the waters of our state.”

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who is a pediatrician and professor at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, said that Michigan should lead the way nationally in rebuilding infrastructure to keep residents safe and healthy. She also helped uncover the Flint water crisis.

“It is proactive investments like this that will prevent future public health crises, reduce inequities, and ensure the promise of generations of Michiganders to come,” she said.

Republican State Sen. Rick Outman of Montcalm County supports the plan. He believes promoting health and safety of residents is the highest goal of government.

“Having access to quality water is a fundamental, basic need that every Michigan family should have the right to,” Outman said. "There are several solid solutions in this proposal that I look forward to seeing further fleshed out. "

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