Years After Flint Water Crisis, Michigan Senate Approves Billions to Fix State Water Systems

Years after the onset of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the state's Senate unanimously approved over $3 billion in funding Thursday for improvements to the state's water infrastructure, The Associated Press reported.

The money would be used to fix old dams and replace lead pipes, of which Michigan has about 460,000, the third-most in the nation, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The proposal moves to Michigan's House next, which will likely discuss and vote on the package in 2022.

Of the $3.3 billion in the proposal, about $2.4 billion would come from federal funding in the form of $1.4 billion from the infrastructure law signed into law by President Joe Biden in November, and $1 billion from a pandemic-related funding law passed in March.

Republican Sen. Jon Bumstead, a sponsor of the bill, said it was "a step towards ensuring that our state water infrastructure undergoes transformational improvements that will benefit every Michigander for generations to come."

Michigan's water systems have been under public scrutiny for years since Flint, Michigan decided in 2014 to change where its drinking water came from. The move led to studies that later revealed contaminated water was sent to homes for over 18 months and caused dangerous levels of lead in the blood of children around the city.

Reports of increased lead levels in the water of Benton Harbor led to a November Environmental Protection Agency investigation that revealed several flaws in the city's water treatment facility.

The Detroit area faced flooding in June that affected thousands, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer attributed to "old infrastructure and climate change."

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Flint, Michigan, Water, Lead Pipes
City workers unload a truck containing pallets of bottled water to distribute during a water filter distribution event on October 26, 2021 in Hamtramck, Michigan. Michigan's state senate approved over $3 billion in funding to replace lead pipes and fix old dams across the state. The House will likely consider the proposal in 2022. Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

Senators initially proposed $600 million to replace service lines that can leach lead into drinking water if the supply isn't properly treated. They upped it to $1 billion following the passage of the federal infrastructure bill.

State regulations, made tougher following Flint's water crisis, generally require that every line be replaced by 2040 — which could cost $2.5 billion in today's dollars.

"This is a huge part of that," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Tony Stamas said of the $1 billion, which is more than triple the $300 million for pipe replacements proposed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Communities would not have to contribute matching funds to get a grant, he said.

The legislation includes $650 million in state money for a new loan fund for dam owners and $400 million for the Great Lakes Water Authority in southeastern Michigan, which provides water to nearly 40 percent of the state's population and wastewater services to nearly 30 percent.

More than $245 million of the $400 million is designated for sewer improvements.

More than one-third of the lending for dams is set aside for a task force that oversees dams and lakes in Midland and Gladwin counties, where a "500-year" flood resulted in the failure of two dams and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to property.

Other funding would help install filtered water stations inside schools, remove "forever" PFAS chemicals from abandoned sites and create special accounts to pay for emergency dam repairs. The funding also would, among other things, provide "clean water infrastructure grants," to help replace contaminated wells or connect their users to community water systems, and fund loans to address failing septic systems.

"We look forward to working with both the House and the governor's office to get this across the line," said Stamas, a Midland Republican. "We have to start somewhere."

Flint, Michigan, Water, Lead Pipes
City workers and volunteers unload a truck containing PUR water filters to residents of Hamtramck on October 26, 2021 in Hamtramck, Michigan. Michigan's state senate approved over $3 billion in funding to replace lead pipes and fix old dams across the state, and the House will likely consider the proposal in 2022. Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images