Water main breaks in Benton Harbor, resulting in more bottled water

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

The broken Benton Harbor water main has been repaired, but city officials on Thursday recommend residents continue to use bottled water for cooking and drinking as water is slowly reintroduced into the system.

"The city will continue to be under a bottled water advisory out of an abundance of caution to reduce their risk for lead even after water services is restored," according to a Thursday afternoon press release from Benton Harbor city government.

Water service likely will return to homes in the city by Thursday evening. Residents may use it for flushing toilets, but officials asked them to wait before showering or flushing their pipes until the system is back to normal pressure.

Benton Harbor residents can pick up free water from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, 331 Miller St., and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at God's Household of Faith, 275 Pipestone Road. 

Residents who could not get to a distribution site and need emergency water delivery can call 211 or the Berrien County Health Department hotline at 1-800-815-5485.

A forklift driver hauls a pallet of bottled water to hand out to residents of Benton Harbor on Oct. 7, 2021 from the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency.

The Berrien County Health Department, state health department and community groups have coordinated bottled water distributions.

A water main burst in Benton Harbor on Tuesday afternoon, leading to a loss of water pressure for residents of a city already dealing with elevated levels of lead. The city commission proclaimed a state of emergency on Monday.

The water main that broke was 89 years old, said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, who has come under fire and faces a recall petition because of his response to the lead contamination. 

Benton Harbor water has recorded three straight years of elevated levels of lead.

More:State criticized for inadequate response to Benton Harbor water crisis

"I have been working around the clock with partners at all levels and appreciate the swift action to get this resolved as soon as possible for our residents," Muhammad said.

The Tuesday water main break caused a loss in water pressure.

"We understand that Benton Harbor residents are going through very stressful times — and I want them to know that the state is fully committed to making sure that families have access to clean water," Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said. "The State of Michigan will be there for Benton Harbor residents while the expedited 18-month process of replacing lead sewer service lines is completed."

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy offered the following advice for Benton Harbor residents to stay safe after the water main break: 

  • Residents should continue to use bottled water for cooking, drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, rinsing foods, and mixing powdered infant form The city will continue to be under a bottled water advisory for lead contamination even after water services is restored.
  • After the water pressure is restored, residents should flush the water taps for five minutes before using the water for washing hands, showering or bathing.
  • For faucets with removable aerators – small screens that trap sediments –remove them and clean any debris that has accumulated.
  • The water may have discoloration after service is restored. This is due to sediment disruption within the water lines caused by the disruption in pressure. While is not necessarily an indication of contamination, residents should run water until it is clear before using for showering, bathing and other non-consuming activities.
  • Flush toilets at least twice to move fresh water through the plumbing.
  • For faucets and showers: Run cold water taps at full flow for several minutes first, followed by hot water taps. If possible, remove faucet aerators before flushing.
  • Run an empty load in dishwashers and washing machines to clear the water lines.

More than 71,000 cases of free bottled water had been distributed to Benton Harbor residents between Sept. 30 and Wednesday, the state health department said. Residents are being encouraged to use bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods and mixing powdered infant formula.

The state health department will add additional dates and locations for bottled water distribution. Information is posted on Michigan.gov/MiLeadSafe.

Contact the state health department with questions about lead weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 866-691-5323.