It was great to see the Michigan Legislature come together and put politics aside as they voted unanimously in finding a resolution to the Flint drinking water crisis. However, this single incident also exposed a major flaw in a system that should ensure that all residents of Michigan have access to clean drinking water, not water that is treated from polluted rivers and is brought to them through aging, deteriorating pipes.
We have witnessed how difficult it has been for our state leaders to legislate changes in the way we fund roads. It is going to be even more difficult to bring about positive legislation to update our aging underground drinking water systems and failing sewer systems. We all take for granted that our water supply and sewage disposal systems are in fine working condition, and yet significant troubles lurk just below the surface in many, if not most, communities across the state. The delay in road funding has blemished the image of the state that put the world on wheels. A continued delay in proper funding for our underground infrastructure will also be an embarrassing black eye for the Great Lakes State, whose greatest natural resource is the water in our lakes, rivers and streams.
Flint is not alone with its aging and dilapidated system challenges. Other municipalities throughout Michigan have significant problems, and no one is talking about them publicly, in most cases. Pictures of many drinking water delivery pipes, which can range from 50-100 years old, would horrify most people. Many would be sickened if they truly understood that most of the beach closings that happen in Michigan on a regular basis are the result of fecal contamination from sewer systems. Even more disheartening is the fact that with very little state and federal financial support, our underground infrastructure is paid for mainly at the local level, and cash-strapped municipalities have not been able to implement rate increases for much needed improvements.
How many more Flint catastrophes need to happen before we wake up and fix the problem? A comprehensive state plan is sorely needed now to begin the replacement of outdated and failing systems; and, more importantly, to properly fund our ailing underground infrastructure throughout our state. This will take cooperation from the public, as well as local and state leaders — now — not after another public health emergency.
Clean water is essential, but it costs money. Nothing is more important to life, and nothing is taken more for granted. The lesson of Flint has been painful and costly. Let’s find a solution.
executive vice president
& Transportation Association