Whitmer unveils $500M clean water initiative from existing aid, bonding

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday unveiled a $500 million initiative to bolster water infrastructure around the state with dollars going to lead line replacement, water quality protection and sewer system upgrades.

The money is a combination of federal money, a one-time state appropriation and state bonding that won't result in a tax increase, Whitmer's office said.

The initiative comes more than six years after the Flint Water Crisis that troubled the nation over lead exposure in the drinking water. The MI Clean Water plan also addresses toxic contamination such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

A worker helps replace one of Flint's lead or galvanized steel water lines.

The efforts will help urban areas and low-income communities receive a needed upgrade in water infrastructure Whitmer administration officials say was long neglected.

The "investment will help us rebuild Michigan’s water infrastructure and will prioritize and invest directly into protecting our public health, environment, and economy," Whitmer said in a statement.

"I look forward to working with the Legislature to find creative solutions to address our water infrastructure backlog. Everyone must remain committed to ensuring that every Michigander has access to clean water."

The plan includes combining federal funds for lead service line replacement in low-income communities to the tune of $102.1 million with bonding authority for water quality protection at $290 million. In addition, there is a one-time $105 million appropriation for improving drinking water infrastructure. Another $2.9 million in grants will be used "to help communities develop, update and improve their plans for wastewater and stormwater systems," according to state officials.

The plan was praised by a variety of interests and public officials who have encouraged strong water quality measures.

"At a time when the federal government has retreated from science and public health protections, Michigan is once again leading the nation to rebuild the critical infrastructure necessary to keep Michiganders healthy and safe," said Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician who helped expose the water crisis case, in a statement released by the governor's office. "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."

On Wednesday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler was in East Lansing to say the federal agency this year has given Michigan $95.3 million to finance clean water infrastructure and drinking water projects in communities across the state.

“The Trump administration has helped finance more than $40 billion in clean water infrastructure since entering office and this latest award will help Michigan modernize its aging wastewater and drinking water systems,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Attention to the water needs of Michigan citizens today will pay off for many years — even decades — to come.”

About $207.1 million in the plan is targeted at drinking water quality. It includes $37.5 million in grants to deal with lead and copper drinking water issues, $25 million in grants to clean up PFAS and other contaminants, $35 million for non-lead drinking water infrastructure grants and $7.5 million for affordability and planning grants.

The other $293 million includes $235 million for clean water infrastructure grants that deal with eliminating and correcting sewer overflows, $20 million for targeting raw sewage discharges, $35 million for eliminating failing septic systems and $3 million for storm water and waste water grants.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan welcomed the initiative since Michigan's largest city has the oldest infrastructure in the state.

The initiative will allow Detroit to replace "2,000 lead service lines beyond our current program," Duggan said in a statement released by the governor's office. "As we do with all of our capital projects, we will hire Detroiters to do this work.  We also plan to dedicate a portion of these funds to expand our affordability programs to help our most impoverished residents, who cannot take advantage of our other assistance programs."

A Republican lawmaker also heralded the plan.

"The Legislature has invested millions of dollars on improving the quality of Michigan’s drinking water and these essential water infrastructure investments would allow us to use both federal and existing state funds to further improve our water infrastructure," said Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes. "Having access to quality water is a fundamental, basic need that every Michigan family should have the right to. There are several solid solutions in this proposal that I look forward to seeing further fleshed out."


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