Efforts to Replace Michigan’s Lead Water Lines Could Get Big Boost

The Michigan Senate water infrastructure bill includes $1 billion for lead service line replacement, but Safe Water Engineering’s Elin Betanzo and state Sen. Jim Ananich say it’s not enough to fix everything.

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Earlier this month, the Michigan Senate approved a $3.3 billion water infrastructure bill which allocates $1 billion of those funds to replace lead service lines across the state. As communities like Flint and Benton Harbor continue to suffer from the effects of lead contaminated drinking water, Michigan Democrats are also working to replace the emergency manager legislation that has contributed to these issues. 

“Some of the cost estimates that we have for replacing them are $2.5 billion. This $1 billion investment is the biggest we’ve seen ever, but it won’t get us all the way there.” — Elin Betanzo, Safe Water Engineering LLC


Listen: What Michigan’s $3.3 billion water infrastructure bill could mean for the state’s lead service lines 


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Elin Betanzo is founder of Safe Water Engineering LLC. She says with $1 billion allocated to lead service line replacement, Michigan has the funding to get half of the lead pipes out of the state. “Some of the cost estimates that we have for replacing them are $2.5 billion. This $1 billion investment is the biggest we’ve seen ever, but it won’t get us all the way there.” Betanzo says that funding has been a source of delay for lead service line replacement, “If we had started removing lead service lines in 1991, we’d probably be done by now.”

In addition to Michigan’s $3.3 billion for water infrastructure, the federal infrastructure bill includes $15 billion for lead service line replacement. “The federal (infrastructure) funding… nationally, that’s going to be a huge boost,” says Betanzo. She says she hopes this funding will come with stricter national regulations for lead in drinking water, which she says are few and far between. “Michigan is the first state in the country to have a requirement to replace all of the lead service lines,” Betanzo says. 

Sen. Jim Ananich is a Democrat from Flint representing Michigan’s 27th state senate district. He says this $3.3 billion water infrastructure bill signals that the Michigan Senate is starting to make real investments in the state’s water systems. “This isn’t a one time thing and done… we’re seeing more and more issues and we have to make sure we have resilience in our system.”  

Amid this reconsideration of the state’s water infrastructure, Ananich has introduced legislation to repeal Michigan’s emergency manager law, which he says is partly to blame for the Flint Water Crisis. “If everyone’s acknowledging that they’re never going to use [the Emergency Manager law] again because of what happened to my community, then why keep it on the books?” Ananich asks.

As an alternative, his legislation includes provisions to empower community-driven solutions in crises instead of removing local power, “We’ve basically set up cities and local governments to fail.” 

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