Michigan gets $62M from Biden administration to protect clean drinking water

By Kyle Kaminski

May 6, 2024

Funding from President Joe Biden’s administration is set to ensure Michiganders have access to clean drinking water.

MICHIGAN—Millions of dollars in federal funding awarded through President Joe Biden’s administration is set to expedite the ongoing removal of toxic lead water service lines across the state and help ensure access to clean drinking water is protected for millions of Michiganders.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week announced a total of $61.9 million in federal funding to assist the state of Michigan with the removal of lead water service lines, which are known to cause health problems for those exposed to the water that travels through them.

“The science is clear, there is no safe level of lead exposure, and the primary source of harmful exposure in drinking water is through lead pipes,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement announcing the funding. “President Biden understands it is critical to identify and remove lead pipes as quickly as possible, and he has secured significant resources for states and territories to accelerate the permanent removal of dangerous lead pipes once and for all.”

The new funds are part of a recent $3 billion investment through Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help protect access to clean drinking water nationwide and a broader commitment from the Biden administration to replace every lead water pipe across the country.

In Michigan, the funding will run through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans for public water systems to upgrade infrastructure—including water lines that are made out of toxic lead.

State officials said the new federal resources will work to complement existing state and local efforts to accelerate lead service line removals, rebuild water infrastructure, and support more new jobs—all while protecting Michigan families from the consequences of lead contamination.

“The State of Michigan is committed to protect every family from lead contamination and build confidence in our drinking water systems. But our work isn’t done,” EGLE Director Phil Roos said in a statement. “These additional resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help us increase the pace of rebuilding and modernizing Michigan’s water infrastructure.”

Service lines are the underground pipes that deliver water from the water main to a home. State data shows that about 12% of service lines in the state—or about 331,000 service lines—were known or likely to contain lead in 2020, with another 314,000 lines made of unknown materials.

Lead can leach into water that travels through lead pipes, which can lead to health issues for those who are exposed to it—particularly for young children, infants, and fetuses that face a much greater risk of nervous system damage, learning disabilities, and other medical issues.

Because lead is a neurotoxin that can accumulate in the body and poses a risk at low exposure levels, the EPA has said there’s no “safe” amount of lead that can be found in the bloodstream.

Under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, local communities are required to replace at least 5% of their lead service lines every year—with the goal of fully removing them all by 2041.

But replacing those pipes can be an expensive and difficult endeavor. Federal estimates show that it costs an average of $4,700 (and up to $12,000) to replace just one lead service line—and that’s only when contractors know definitively where the lead service lines are actually located.

In a statement, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said Michigan is already home to the country’s “strongest” lead and copper drinking water rules. But with most of the state’s public water systems now more than 50 years old, the new funding will still provide “crucial support.”

Recent reports show Michigan, as a whole, has an annual gap of between $860 million to $1.1 billion in water infrastructure needs—largely due to decades of deferred maintenance projects.

“Governor Whitmer and I are working hard to ensure Michiganders know their water is safe,” Gilchrist said. “We’ve invested hundreds of millions to protect the quality of drinking water, upgrade water infrastructure, and replace lead service lines in communities across Michigan.”

Last month, Whitmer also announced that her administration plans to invest an additional $290 million to remove lead water lines and upgrade wastewater infrastructure statewide—a plan the governor says will create 4,350 jobs, improve drinking water quality, and improve public health.

The funding will also add to more than $4 billion in state and federal funds that have already been invested to upgrade drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater facilities statewide, including more than $600 million already from Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Additionally, Whitmer’s latest budget recommendations also call for spending more than $83 million on water infrastructure fixes—$40 million of which is focused on removing lead service lines, as well as hiring additional state employees to help monitor the state’s drinking water.

And with more than half of EGLE’s budget returned to local communities in the form of grants and loans, state officials said the funding will translate to broader economic growth for Michigan: Studies show that every $1 million invested in water infrastructure supports 15 jobs and that every $1 invested in water infrastructure brings along at least $6 in broader, economic returns.

READ MORE: Michigan invests more federal funds to protect clean drinking water

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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