Workers repairing lead pipes in Flint
City of Flint, Michigan workers prepare to replace a lead water service line pipe at the site of the first Flint home with high lead levels to have its lead service line replaced under the Mayor's Fast Start program, on March 4, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. | Bill Pugliano, Getty Images
Updated with comment from Whitmer’s office, 3:41 p.m., 10/1/20

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday a landmark investment in Michigan’s notoriously underfunded water infrastructure, prompting praise from environmental groups who say the action is a much-needed step in the right direction.

The $500 million investment, dubbed “MI Clean Water,” aims to improve Michigan’s water systems in both quality and costs without raising taxes for residents.

“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 Thursday. “The MI Clean Water Plan is a critical part of the solution, but the work cannot stop here. I look forward to working with the legislature to find creative solutions to address our water infrastructure backlog. Everyone must remain committed to ensuring that every Michigander has access to clean water.”

According to Whitmer’s statement, the plan provides direct investments for communities and will support more than 7,500 Michigan water infrastructure jobs. It also addresses problems like lead pipes, contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), inadequate sewers and septic systems, unaffordable water rates and tight local budgets.

Michigan’s 1st PFAS drinking water standards clear final hurdle

The $500 million proposal includes: $102.1 million in federal dollars for lead service line replacement in low income communities, $290 million in bonding authority for water quality protection, $105 million in one-time General Fund appropriation for drinking water infrastructure and innovation, and $2.9 million in asset management grants for communities.

Some of that funding will require legislative authorization, which Whitmer urged lawmakers to consider.

Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis said in an email that $102.1 million is federal funding, while $293 million needs to be authorized by the state Legislature. The remaining dollars were in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 and FY 2021 budgets as work projects as to not lapse back into the General Fund after the fiscal year ends.*

“It’s time for the Legislature to take bold actions to invest in Michigan’s infrastructure and protect our water from toxic contamination,” Whitmer said. “I’m calling on the Legislature to authorize EGLE [Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy] to use the remainder of the voter-approved 2002 Great Lakes Water Quality bond during this legislative session. Michiganders are tired of waiting for action, the time is now. We must all work together to improve the quality of the waters of our state.” 

The investment has the support of EGLE, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Flint Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including state Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) and state Sen. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes).

How many Michiganders are still without clean water during COVID-19? Not even the state knows.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Michigan Agri-Buginess Association and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) all issued statements in support of the investment following Thursday’s announcement.

“By rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and working to ensure every Michigander has access to clean, affordable drinking water, Gov. Whitmer has demonstrated true leadership and shown through deeds not words that protecting our water and our Great Lakes is a top priority,” said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director for the NWF.

Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, said the investment will be a boon to the state’s economic growth in agriculture.

“Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure is a serious impediment to economic growth for agriculture and enhanced quality of life in our state’s rural communities,” Lippstreu siad. “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. We will continue to work with leaders in Lansing to build on today’s water announcement and tackle other critical infrastructure needs — from modern roads and bridges, to reliable rural broadband, and beyond.”

Michigan’s dam problem isn’t just in Midland — and it’s part of a larger infrastructure crisis

The MI Clean Water investment in drinking water quality includes:

  • $102 million for the Lead Service Line Replacement in Disadvantaged Communities Program
  • $37.5 million for lead and copper in drinking water grants
  • $35 million in non-lead drinking water infrastructure grants
  • $25 million for PFAS and emerging contaminants grants
  • $7.5 million in affordability and planning grants

The investment in wastewater protection includes:

  • $235 million in clean water infrastructure grants (eliminating sanitary sewer overflows; correcting combined sewer overflows; increasing green infrastructure)
  • $35 million for Failing Septic System Elimination Program 
  • $20 million in substantial public health risk grants (removing direct and continuous discharges of raw sewage from surface or groundwater)
  • $3 million in stormwater, asset management and wastewater grants