Highland Park Turns Attention to Water Line Repairs, Funding, After Lead Scare

Testing for elevated lead levels continues, but city officials and residents are focused on costly infrastructure repair.

Eighteen homes have tested for elevated lead levels in the second round of testing in Highland Park, water department director Damon L. Garrett told residents during a water information fair Tuesday night. 

This represents 5 percent of the 350 test results the water department received since last month’s press conference. Last month, nine out of 36 homes tested for elevated levels of lead. A total of 450 samples have been tested from across the city thus far, which is a better representative sample of the city, Garrett said. 

Now, city officials’ and residents are turning their attention to infrastructure issues and costs to replace lead service lines.

“In Flint, they had water chemistry problems that exacerbated the lead situation. We do not have that situation in Highland Park,” Garrett said. ” The infrastructure is over 100 years old and we have some areas that need to be addressed.”

Testing for elevated lead levels will continue and be part of an initial data set that will be completed by the end of the month, used to identify and prioritize replacements of water mains and service lines.    


Residents raise cost concerns

Eleanore Catolico
Eleanore Catolico

Highland Park faced water affordability issues similar to Detroit since their water treatment plant shuttered in 2012, and the city purchases their water from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which is managed by the Great Lakes Water Authority.     

The Census Bureau estimates Highland Park has lost almost 1,000 residents since 2010. The city is comprised of many retirees, and the median income is less than $16,000 dollars. 

During the public comment period, residents vented frustration over water quality, the lack of communication from the water department, understanding test results, and a potential rate increase for residents if the city secures federal and state loans, which include the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, to fund infrastructure repair.

Residents also raised questions whether public money can be used to complete lead service line replacements on the private side of a property. Garrett said part of the state funding can be used for these replacements.

Under the revised lead and copper rule, utilities are required to perform complete lead service line replacements unless in the case of an emergency repair. The new rule was developed to protect drinking water quality and public health in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Local water suppliers, including the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, recently lost a judgment challenging the new rule, citing it will drive up repair costs without funding considerations. 


  • Eleanore Catolico
    Eleanore Catolico is Civic Reporter with 101.9 WDET, covering local affairs with the Detroit Documenters program. She enjoys techno.