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Benton Harbor asks lawmakers for money to solve water crisis

The city’s water isn’t safe to drink after being tainted with lead
Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 6:20 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - The head of Michigan’s water regulatory agency said there’s only one way to make Benton Harbor’s water safe to drink, replacing the lead water lines. The city’s mayor spoke before lawmakers Thursday asking for money to get that done.

“Lead leaching into drinking water is a national issue,” said Liesl Clark, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy director.

Water coming from Benton Harbor’s taps has had high levels of lead since 2018. Clark told the House Oversight Committee Thursday the lead is coming from lead water lines, which connect a home to the city’s water system.

State data shows Benton Harbor has 3,011 service lines connecting homes to the city’s water system which could have lead.

There’s no information for another 2,733 pipes.

To help extend the life of those pipes, the state helped Benton Harbor add corrosion control to its water.

After a year it didn’t work.

“It wasn’t what we wanted. So we increased the dose in February of 2020,” said Eric Oswald, EGLE’s drinking water & environmental health division director.

And the water still isn’t safe to drink.

“When you don’t have corrosion control in your drinking water, you don’t have any coating on the pipe so it takes a while for this chemical to get out there,” said Oswald.

In 2018, the legislature approved new water rules, which required communities to remove lead service lines. Many from those communities told News 10 it would take decades to complete the project because there was no money with the mandate.

Benton Harbor’s mayor told the committee they need money to make its water safe.

“The need for money, the need for resources, the help from the state and the federal government is undo proportion,” said Marcus Muhammad.

Muhammad said the city has been working under a financial emergency since 2010. It will take about $30 million to replace all the lead pipes in Benton Harbor. The city still needs $11.4 million to get it done.

Muhammad’s confident he will get the money needed.

“Governor Whitmer, she looked me in the eye. She said mayor, I’m going to do all that I can to get you the money and resources to solve this problem,” he said.

Committee chairman, Rep. Steve Johnson, (R) Wayland, blamed Benton Harbor for not bringing it to their attention sooner.

“The reason it’s been elevated is because there’s been some publicity about this because some residents have spoken out. Otherwise, we may have never been aware of this,” said Rep. Johnson.

Rep. Johnson said it was up to EGLE to request money for lead line replacements in the state budget.

“The department did not request it in the 2019 or the 2020 budget,” said Rep. Johnson.

He said hopefully drinking water in other communities won’t be tainted before lines are replaced.

Jackson is planning to replace its 11,339 lead lines over 35 years, while Owosso hopes to have its 2,195 pipes replaced in 20 years. Clark said EGLE is working with the EPA to make sure certain water filters will get lead out of the tap in Benton Harbor.

She hopes to have people filtering their water in weeks.

You can access the water line inventory from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy HERE.

You can see the inventory of mid-Michigan communities HERE.

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