Michigan environmental department taps new clean water advocate

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy on Friday appointed a new clean water public advocate. 

Kris Donaldson, a 17-year veteran of the division responsible for adhering to the state's Safe Drinking Water Act, takes on the job as the state grapples with criticism over how it has handled a lead-in-water crisis in Benton Harbor.

Donaldson will replace prior Public Advocate Ninah Sasy, who has switched over to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

"EGLE remains committed to finding real and permanent solutions that ensure every Michigander has access to clean, safe water,” EGLE Director Liesl Clark said in a statement. "Kris has a proven track record of helping underserved communities in Michigan maintain and operate safe and reliable drinking water systems, and as Clean Water Public Advocate she will provide a critical link to citizens as we respond to the challenges facing communities in Michigan that have suffered from decades of underinvestment in their drinking water infrastructure."   

Donaldson, a licensed engineer, recently served as district supervisor for EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division in southeast Michigan, where she was responsible for regulatory oversight of more than 200 public drinking water systems in four counties, state officials said.

Donaldson will continue the state’s focus on lead service line removal.

"During my 17 years at EGLE working on public drinking water issues, I’ve developed a large network of relationships with both local water system operators and the diverse communities they serve," Donaldson said in a statement. "I understand the importance of meeting with people where they are, listening to their drinking water concerns, and taking action to address their concerns."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the clean water public advocate position by executive order after taking office in 2019. The official duties include investigating complaints and concerns regarding drinking water quality in the state, establishing a statewide uniform reporting system to collect and analyze complaints, assist in the development and implementation of state and federal laws, rules, and regulations related to drinking water quality and working with public and private stakeholders on outreach efforts to improve the state’s drinking water.