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Michigan governor releases $500 million water infrastructure plan



FILE - In this April 18, 2018, file photo, Flint, Mich., resident Jabaree Broach works as part of a crew digging out and replacing lead service lines on Calumet Street on Flint's east side. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a $500 million plan Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, to upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in Michigan with actions such as replacing lead service lines and removing chemical pollutants. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a $500 million plan Thursday to upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in Michigan that includes actions such as replacing lead service lines and removing chemical pollutants.

The initiative, dubbed MI Clean Water, calls for creating a pot of money from which local governments could apply for grants or loans to improve their water treatment systems.

It would draw on a variety of sources, including federal funds and state-issued bonds. Approval from the Republican-controlled legislature would be needed for use of some funding. But no new appropriations or tax increases are required, state officials said.

“The MI Clean Water investment will help us rebuild Michigan’s water infrastructure and will prioritize and invest directly into protecting our public health, environment, and economy,” Whitmer said in a statement.

“It’s time for the Legislature to take bold actions to invest in Michigan’s infrastructure and protect our water from toxic contamination,” the Democratic governor said. “Michiganders are tired of waiting for action; the time is now.”

Drinking water quality has been a primary concern in Michigan in recent years with the discovery of lead contamination in Flint and other cities, as well as chemical compounds known as PFAS that raise a variety of health concerns.

“Now is the perfect time to invest state and federal dollars in a coordinated way to encourage job growth in water infrastructure jobs,” said Liesl Clark, director of the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. “This work will ripple throughout both the economy and the systems that protect public health, strengthening both.”

The plan would spend $207 million on drinking water improvements including replacing lead service lines in disadvantaged communities; removing PFAS chemicals; and complying with the state’s lead and copper regulation, which was toughened after the Flint water crisis.

The rule calls for eventually replacing all lead service lines in the state, along with stepped-up sampling of tap water, and lowering the threshold for triggering cleanup action from 15 parts per billion to 12 parts per billion.

Nearly half of the drinking water spending would come from federal funds previously allocated to Michigan. The remainder would come from a series of grant programs approved by the state Legislature in 2019.

An additional $293 million would go toward improving wastewater treatment. It would fund projects to prevent sewer overflows and discharges of raw sewage from surface or groundwater, and to use “green infrastructure” features such as permeable pavement, rain gardens and wetlands.

A $35 million program would offer low-interest loans to homeowners and communities for replacing or eliminating failing septic wastewater systems. About 30% of Michigan households use septic systems.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the program would help the city expand a water main replacement initiative and replace 2,000 additional lead service lines.

“As we do with all of our capital projects, we will hire Detroiters to do this work,” Duggan said in a statement released by the governor’s office. “We also plan to dedicate a portion of these funds to expand our affordability programs to help our most impoverished residents, who cannot take advantage of our other assistance programs.”

State Sen. Rick Outman, a Republican from Six Lakes, said the proposal included “several solid solutions” that needed more details.

“Having access to quality water is a fundamental, basic need that every Michigan family should have the right to,” Outman said.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters said the MI Clean Water initiative would address longstanding problems with discharges of raw sewage into rivers and lakes while helping communities avoid shutting off water service to homes for nonpayment of bills.

“Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure is a serious impediment to economic growth for agriculture and enhanced quality of life in our state’s rural communities,” said Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer’s effort to address water infrastructure because it is currently failing in too many ways, in too many communities, from our biggest cities to our smallest towns.”

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