Gov. Whitmer Meets with Benton Harbor Residents and Local Leaders, Underscores Actions to Provide Safe Drinking Water

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

October 19, 2021 

Contact: press@michigan.gov  

Gov. Whitmer Meets with Benton Harbor Residents and Local Leaders, Underscores Actions to Provide Safe Drinking Water 

Governor calls on legislature to fully fund LSL replacement with additional $11.4 million investment, reiterates goal to replace 100% of Benton Harbor lead service lines in 18 months 

LANSING, Mich. - Governor Gretchen Whitmer today met with residents and local leaders in Benton Harbor, underscoring the Executive Directive she signed a few days ago implementing an all-hands-on-deck, whole-of-government approach to coordinate federal, state, and local resources to move forward with urgency and ensure that every parent in Benton Harbor can give their kid a glass of water with confidence. The governor reiterated her administration's goal to replace 100% of lead service lines (LSLs) in Benton Harbor in 18 months and called on the legislature to fully fund the cost of replacement with an additional $11.4 million investment. 

"Every Michigander deserves safe drinking water," said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. "Today, I visited Benton Harbor to hear from community leaders doing the work on the ground and residents living through water challenges every day. I called on the legislature to fully fund lead service line replacement with an additional $11.4 million investment, helping us meet our expedited timeline to replace 100% of lead service lines in 18 months. Our work will build on the Executive Directive I signed last week to pursue an all-hands-on-deck approach to protect access to safe drinking water right now and make lasting investments in water infrastructure. I cannot imagine the stress that moms and dads in Benton Harbor are under as they emerge from a pandemic, work hard to put food on the table, pay the bills, and face a threat to the health of their children. That's why we will not rest until every parent feels confident to give their kid a glass of water knowing that it is safe." 

"With Governor Whitmer's visit today, our administration continues to lift up the Benton Harbor community in every way that we can," said Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II. "Last week's executive directive reaffirmed our strong partnership with Benton Harbor residents and local officials. It implements a whole-of-government approach to the challenges facing this community and commits state government to helping Benton Harbor replace every lead service line with better infrastructure. We must complete these critical upgrades as quickly as possible, and I join the governor in calling on the legislature to work with us to appropriate the funds Michigan has received from the American Rescue Plan." 

"Today's listening sessions demonstrated the Whitmer-Gilchrist administration's commitment to the Benton Harbor community and were a welcome chance for residents and community leaders to communicate their concerns directly to Governor Whitmer," said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad. "I am grateful that Governor Whitmer visited Benton Harbor today, and for our continued partnership with the state of Michigan as we work to protect access to safe drinking water, upgrade our community's water infrastructure, and keep Benton Harbor families safe." 

"Clean water is not a luxury. It's a basic necessity," said Rep. Fred Upton. "In 2016, I worked with Representative Dan Kildee, who represents Flint, to require the EPA to immediately notify states of potential lead contamination. Last October, I also helped secure $5.6 million for lead pipe replacement in Benton Harbor. Replacing lead lines is not a partisan issue and I would hope that every Republican and Democrat would work together on this issue confronting our communities." 

"The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is committed to partnering with the Berrien County Health Department and other community, state and federal partners to provide safe drinking water to Benton Harbor residents until lead service lines are replaced," said MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel. "MDHHS will be there for the residents of Benton Harbor - today, tomorrow and until lead has been eliminated from the city's drinking water. We will ensure that residents have an alternative drinking water supply by helping them access free bottled water. And we will work swiftly on a long-term solution by replacing lead service lines." 

"It's past time to 'fix the damn pipes.' Our decades-long failure to invest in infrastructure continues to threaten the health and safety of Michigan children," said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. "The best path forward to guarantee safe drinking water is the quick replacement of Benton Harbor's lead pipes." 

"We commend Governor Whitmer's commitment to the health and well-being of Michigan's families and communities," said We the People of Detroit, a water justice organization. "By working to replace 100% of lead service lines in Benton Harbor in 18 months, she's following through on her responsibility to protect drinking water in the state of Michigan. We will continue working with local and state leaders to replace every lead pipe in every community in our state so that all Michiganders can give our children a glass of clean affordable drinking water and have confidence that it is safe." 

"Benton Harbor is a proud community with a rich history and everyone I talk to in Benton Harbor wants to protect their children, neighbors and friends. They just want to know that the water is safe to  

drink," said Regina Strong, Michigan's Environmental Justice Public Advocate.  "That's why Governor Whitmer's actions today are so important. They reflect what we have committed to do - ensure that everyone in Benton Harbor has access to clean, safe drinking water. Standing with the families of Benton Harbor is an environmental justice priority that we must address with urgency." 

Funding 

The estimated cost to replace 100% of LSLs in Benton Harbor is $30 million. The State of Michigan has so far delivered $18.6 million with $10 million in the recently signed FY 2022 budget, $3 million from the MI Clean Water plan, and a $5.6 million Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.  

With $18.6 million out of $30 million appropriated to date, Benton Harbor still needs at least $11.4 million to replace 100% of their LSLs in the next 18 months. Today, Governor Whitmer called on the legislature to secure the remaining funding by utilizing the billions in federal funding available to Michigan under the American Rescue Plan. 

The FY 2022 budget also includes $15 million in water emergency funding currently being used to supply bottled water to Benton Harbor, among other key uses. 

Executive Directive (ED) 

The ED builds on ongoing efforts underway at various departments and by critical stakeholder groups and community leaders, ensuring state government and its partners are all rowing in the same direction and laser-focused on shared goals. 

Here are some of the actions the ED takes: 

  • Residents of Benton Harbor must continue to have access to free bottled water until further notice. 
  • Residents must be offered free or low-cost lead-related services including but not limited to drinking water testing and health services. 
  • The State of Michigan will collaborate closely with federal partners, county officials, city officials, and community leaders to communicate up-to-date information and leverage every available resource to accelerate lead service line replacement. 

To view the full executive directive, click the link below: 

[EXECUTIVE DIRECTIVE 2021-06] 

Lead Service Lines (LSLs) 

Under Michigan's Lead and Copper Rule, the strictest nationwide, every community is required to replace 5% of its LSLs every year, meaning 100% replacement in 20 years. However, any community experiencing an action level exceedance, or ALE, is required to replace their LSLs at a rate of 7% per year, meaning 100% completion in just under 15 years.  

With additional federal funding expected under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act making its way through Congress, the State of Michigan will receive billions more to fix its infrastructure, including lead pipes. 

Lead 

There is no safe level of lead. Lead exposure harms brain development in children and it causes both short and long-term health problems for adults. The leading causes of lead exposure are drinking water and paint. About 34 million homes have lead-based paint and around 9.2 million have lead pipes. Michigan's top priority is simple: safe drinking water for everyone. Residents should visit MI Lead Safe (michigan.gov/lead) to see all available resources and guides. 

Whitmer-Gilchrist Administration Actions 

In the two and a half years since the Whitmer-Gilchrist Administration took office in January 2019, the State of Michigan has invested more in its water infrastructure than the previous five years-from 2014 to 2018-combined. The governor launched the MI Clean Water plan to invest $700 million to build up drinking and wastewater infrastructure while supporting 10,000 good-paying jobs. The plan addresses high water rates, tackles toxic contaminants like PFAS, builds up sewer and septic systems that can't meet demand, and replaces lead service lines. In addition to MI Clean Water plan, Michigan has invested millions in drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater facilities across the state supporting thousands of local jobs. 

 photo 2

 

 photo 1

###