Column: Don’t undermine our water

Elin Betanzo

We all depend on clean, fresh water to survive. The United States is fortunate to have abundant water from a huge range of drinking water sources, and Michigan is the envy of the world when it comes to access to fresh water.

Most people from Michigan understand that it should be a top priority to protect our lakes and our drinking water supply. Unfortunately, our state Legislature seems to be taking our greatest resource for granted.

A bill now under consideration in Lansing, House Bill 4205, could prohibit Michigan from adopting any rule more stringent than the federal standard. Let that sink in – Michigan could not adopt requirements that address Michigan’s priorities, even when the federal rules don’t meet our needs.

If you have toxic chemicals in your drinking water — as families dealing with PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination are right now — do you really want to wait for the U.S. EPA to write a regulation to protect you? In a best-case scenario, a new U.S. EPA drinking water regulation would take around 9 years to write, finalize, and implement.

The Flint water crisis was a wake-up call to many people in Michigan and across the country. The federal Lead and Copper Rule allowed questionable decisions and unsafe water to be delivered to families in Flint for over a year before dedicated citizens and irrefutable data finally made enough headlines for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Governor Snyder to admit the water was not safe to drink.

It is clear that the current rules on the books are not enough to provide safe drinking water for all Michigan communities. Governor Snyder said the Lead and Copper Rule is dumb and dangerous, and right now the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is working on revising the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule to address weaknesses in the federal rule.

With more than 460,000 estimated lead service lines delivering water to homes in Michigan, our residents deserve a better Lead and Copper Rule that actually reduces exposure to lead in drinking water. It’s a shame that some in our state legislature would want to take away Michigan’s ability to do that and to address the next threat to our drinking water by passing a “No Stricter Than Federal” bill.

The Safe Drinking Water Act helped establish a solid foundation of federal drinking water standards, but Michigan needs the flexibility to build on these regulations to address issues unique to Michigan and protect the health of Michigan families. We cannot let the foundation of environmental regulations set by the U.S. EPA be the ceiling for Michigan.

If we want the Michigan economy to thrive, we must be able to protect our world-class lakes when and where protection is needed. If we want healthy communities, we need to be able to pass regulations that address Michigan’s drinking water threats and the way we do business here in Michigan. We can’t afford to lose the ability to protect our precious water resources and our children.

We don’t have to use it every day, but if we lose the ability to make regulations that meet Michigan’s needs we will certainly pay for it and regret it when we need it most. I called and asked my state Senator to oppose HB 4205 – I encourage others to do the same.

Elin Betanzo is a water quality engineer and founder of Safe Water Engineering LLC.