(This week, MI Environment is featuring several articles from the State of the Great Lakes report. Today's article was written by James Clift, EGLE deputy director.)
The Great Lakes and the waters play an important role in the lives of the people who reside within the basin. Most residents of Michigan have access to high quality drinking water sources. More than half get their drinking water from public water supplies that pull their raw water from the Great Lakes or connecting rivers.
Throughout the Great Lakes Basin — which includes all of Michigan and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin as well as the province of Ontario in Canada — more than 35 million people rely on the Great Lakes for their drinking water supply. The Great Lakes contain almost 20 percent of the planet's fresh surface water, and Michigan has a unique place in the system as the only state almost entirely within the lakes' drainage basin.
Protecting those waters, particularly the integrity of drinking water sources, is a key part of EGLE's work to protect the environment and public health.
The largest public water system in Michigan is operated by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), which supplies water to 128 communities in Southeast Michigan and serves 3.5 million residents. The water authority has intakes in Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River. Most other Michigan residents get their water from groundwater sources, about half through a public water supply and the other half through private wells. A small number of communities rely on rivers or streams as the source of some or all of their drinking water.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been clear about the high value and utmost priority she places on ensuring safe drinking water for the people of the state of Michigan. In response, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has also made protecting drinking water a core tenet of its mission and vision. As part of this effort, EGLE recognizes the need to proactively anticipate and address drinking water threats in the Great Lakes. As the Great Lakes state, Michigan has a responsibility to set an example by upholding the highest standards of Great Lakes protection.
Communities across the state are facing new challenges when it comes to ensuring clean, healthy drinking water. In some cases, water infrastructure has been neglected for too long and needs to be upgraded. In other cases, there is a lack of attention to addressing legacy problems related to properties contaminated with hazardous substances, or impairments due to nutrient pollution that is challenging the current capacity of systems to continue delivering drinking water to their customer. EGLE is dedicated to finding strategic, science-based solutions to these and other emerging issues, in collaboration with partners and stakeholders.
To read about the challenges faced regarding PFAS/PFOA and lead service lines and EGLE's responses, read the rest of the article in the State of the Great Lakes report.