EGLE Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate launches Benton Harbor Water Outreach Task Force

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 26, 2021
EGLE Media Office, EGLE-Assist@Michigan.gov, 517-284-9278 

State, local, and community partners continue to work together to provide additional outreach opportunities in Benton Harbor

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate announced today the creation of the Benton Harbor Water Outreach Task Force. The task force will provide regular updates about water outreach efforts and work to identify and remove lead service lines.

On March 31, 2021, the Benton Harbor Water Outreach Task Force will host a virtual Community Forum. Task force partners will provide updates about water testing, availability of free water filters to City of Benton Harbor residents and lead service line replacement, as well as other resources available to residents, including the Water Leak Pilot.

Members of the task force include a representative from the City of Benton Harbor, the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, Berrien County Health Department, Andrews University, Freshwater Future, and the Benton Spirit Community Newspaper. The task force will be supported by the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate, EGLE, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Additional community partners will also be added in the future to help support the work of the task force.

"Through the efforts of the task force, we will continue to build a mechanism for collaboration benefiting Benton Harbor residents and ultimately serving as a roadmap for other communities impacted by water quality concerns," Sasy said. "I'm looking forward to a number of additional outreach events this year to ensure that Benton Harbor residents have access to water filters, updates about lead service line replacement and access to additional water resources like our Water Leak Pilot."

The Water Leak Pilot in Benton Harbor is part of the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate's Focus on Water Initiative that brings together multi-sector partners to support community efforts and connect resources to address water concerns. Approximately 100 Benton Harbor residents will be the first in the state to benefit from the new initiative and receive free in-home plumbing repairs as well as free WaterSense faucet fixtures donated by KOHLER Co. and distributed by ETNA Supply, a Michigan family-owned business.

Michigan residents can find information about communities with current lead action level exceedances (ALE) by visiting Michigan.gov/MILeadSafe. Elevated lead levels were first discovered in Benton Harbor during routine testing in 2018 and residents were advised how to protect themselves by taking actions ranging from running their water in the mornings prior to first use to obtaining a lead reducing water filter. The Berrien County Health Department has been providing free filters to residents with funding from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Although Benton Harbor has constructed updates at its water treatment plant, much of the city's water distribution system is around 100 years old. Several water mains and lead service lines were installed in the first half of the 20th century and many homes built before the 1960s are likely to have lead service lines or pipes that pose a health risk to residents.

Benton Harbor installed corrosion control treatment technology at its water plant in March 2019 to reduce the amount of corrosivity in the water and has begun the process of replacing an estimated 3,000 lead service lines still in service. The city has also increased the monitoring of lead and copper in drinking water. Benton Harbor is now sampling twice as many homes as it did previously and has increased the testing frequency to every six months instead of every three years. The increased testing will help measure the effectiveness of the corrosion control treatment in lowering lead levels.

"It's important that we work together to make sure to get this work done," said Reverend Pinkney who leads the Benton Harbor Community Water Council. "I am happy to be part of the task force and continue to serve Benton Harbor community residents."

Residents interested in participating in the Community Forum should visit Michigan.gov/CleanWater for a link to the virtual webinar. Residents interested in the Water Leak Pilot should visit Michigan.gov/WaterLeakPilot. For more information about the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate visit Michigan.gov/CleanWater.

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