Whitmer proposes spending $200 million to replace lead water pipes in Michigan

A large portion of the new funding would go toward replacing thousands of lead water lines in Benton Harbor
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 11:43 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to spend $200 million in federal pandemic relief funding to replace lead water pipes across the state, where aging underground infrastructure was exposed by Flint’s disaster.

The plan, if approved by the Legislature, would set aside $20 million to replace all of the lines in Benton Harbor in five years. The majority Black city in the state’s southwestern corner has been exceeding the federal lead limit since 2018.

That year, Michigan began enforcing the nation’s strictest rules for lead in drinking water in the wake of the crisis in the majority Black city of Flint. The regulations will result in replacing every lead service pipe statewide by 2038.

“Every Michigander deserves access to safe drinking water and every community deserves lead-free pipes,” said Whitmer. “We must make long-overdue upgrades to our water infrastructure and build on the progress we have made under the MI Clean Water Plan to replace lead pipes, fix sewer systems, and tackle PFAS in our water supply.”

The city of Flint is wrapping up a five-year project of replacing all lead water service lines, which run between water pipes at the street into the water meters inside homes. The federally-funded project started after the Flint water crisis.

The deadline for Flint residents to sign up for a water service line replacement has passed. Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley expects to complete the citywide project later this year.

When the city began drawing drinking water from the Flint River in April 2014, the more corrosive water was not treated properly and ate away the lining inside lead-based water pipes. That allowed microscopic particles of lead to enter the water supply inside homes.

Benton Harbor has about 6,000 water service lines across the city and most are made of lead or unknown materials, Whitmer said. She estimates the cost of replacing all lead water service lines in the city at around $30 million.

Whitmer’s previously announced $500 million MI Clean Water plan includes about $102 million to replace water service lines, of which $3 million would go toward Benton Harbor. The city also received a $5.6 million EPA grant for water line replacement.

Whitmer’s new $200 million expansion of the MI Clean Water plan would send an additional $20 million for Benton Harbor. The remainder would be distributed to other Michigan cities with lead-based water service lines.

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