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Clean Water Champion: State rallies to meet challenge of neglected infrastructure in Michigan

Workers install an underground pipe in KalamazooAs part of United for Infrastructure week, Ninah Sasy, EGLE's former Clean Water Public Advocate, highlights Michigan's infrastructure needs in an article in the recent State of the Great Lakes report.

Infrastructure needs are great in Michigan. The costs for maintenance, repair or replacement are a financial commitment to ensure facilities can continue serving residents efficiently and safely.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2018 Report Card for Michigan's Infrastructure and the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission Report each highlighted underinvestment in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, dams, schools, transit, water and sewer systems, railways and energy systems. The ASCE Report Card cited estimates that drinking water system owners in Michigan are underfunding improvements for Safe Drinking Water Act compliance by as much as $563 million every year. The Great Lakes and its connecting waterways provide drinking water to approximately 5.3 million Michiganders, so issues that affect the health of the lakes also have an impact on the availability of clean drinking water.

Underfunded infrastructure creates issues not only for end-users but the lakes as well, as wastewater or storm water systems, if not properly maintained, discharge contaminated water back into the Great Lakes, potentially harming public health and the environment.

To help deal with some of the drinking water quality and wastewater protection challenges that municipalities face, Governor Whitmer has launched the MiCleanWater plan. The program leverages $500 million for water infrastructure funding to address urgent infrastructure issues including undersized sewers, failing septic systems, unaffordable water rates and protection from lead, PFAS and other contaminants that can affect drinking water.

Water drawn from the Great Lakes for use by residents and businesses must be effectively treated to make it safe for use. An efficient and properly maintained water system is critical to holding costs down for all customers. Similarly, individual customers can be adversely affected by improper maintenance or leaking pipes in their homes, driving up utility costs and potentially introducing contaminants into the system.

The Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate, which is housed in the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), is launching a Water Leak Pilot program in two Michigan communities in partnership with community-based organizations and state and local partners. The program aims to reduce water waste in Highland Park and Benton Harbor.

Water leaks are a financial burden for municipalities and their residents. They can contribute to water quality concerns and are an energy burden for utilities. During the 12-month pilot period, the Water Leak Pilot program aims to reduce water waste and the financial burden associated with it, increase community education about water leaks, conduct household water audits, share tips for energy savings and provide assistance for on-premise plumbing water repairs.

The Water Leak Pilot program is part of the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate's Focus on Water Initiative, which brings together multi-sector partners to support community efforts and connect resources to address water concerns.

The Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate also has recruited more than 130 residents in communities across Michigan to serve as Clean Water Ambassadors. They will advise EGLE on drinking water issues in their communities and statewide. Ambassadors have diverse backgrounds that include experience advocating for policies that positively impact our Great Lakes. Ambassadors will help Michigan continue to improve efforts for better water quality in Michigan.

Photo caption: Workers install an underground pipe in Kalamazoo.

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