We all rely on water and on the infrastructure that transports it to satisfy countless daily needs - drinking, cooking, bathing, agriculture, manufacturing, waste transport, and fire suppression.  Across the U.S., water systems are aging and in disrepair, often failing to provide safe drinking water to its customers.  Flint, Michigan garnered much scrutiny for mismanagement, its bad decisions creating a public health crisis for the community when the city shifted from Detroit’s drinking water system to the Flint River as a cost-saving endeavor.  The unfortunate reality for Michigan is that Flint is not the only locale facing such dilemmas. 

The state of Michigan is facing a huge water infrastructure collapse.  The economic decline of some cities has paralleled the decline of water systems; however, the problem exists for the more affluent communities, as well.  For years, necessary maintenance and upgrades to water systems have been deferred due to funding shortfalls and a reluctance from local authorities to raise water rates or taxes.  Instead, cities have pieced together their systems as they continue to deteriorate.  According to a report, Michigan’s Water Infrastructure Investment, published in 2016 by Public Sector Consultants, Michigan will need to invest as much as $1 billion annually through the year 2030 to meet the state’s water needs, more than double the amount currently allocated.[1]  Already daunting, this figure is conservative as it does not include the costs necessary to rectify the Flint drinking water supply crisis or to address PFAS contamination in drinking water.

Due to a lack of regulatory oversight, there are few options currently available to address the problem; the state must either find a source of revenue to cover costs or continue to let systems devolve.  To meet the needs of each system, rate increases would be higher than lower-income communities or communities serving smaller constituencies can afford.  To date, the state legislature has either rejected calls to increase funding or severely undercut those requests.

Passage of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act offers the opportunity to contend with years of underinvestment.  Seizing on the opportunity, a budget bill was passed in March that allocates $1.7 billion to water needs in the next fiscal year, combining money from the infrastructure bill with COVID relief funds and other funds.[2]  The funds will underwrite a myriad of projects throughout Michigan including replacing all lead service lines and ending sewage overflows into the rivers and lakes, but the needs across the state will undoubtedly outlast the monies available.

[1] Public Sector Consultants, Inc. “MI Water Infrastructure Investment Needs - Final.” Publicsectorconsultants.com, 12 Apr. 2016, https://publicsectorconsultants.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/MI-Water-Infrastructure-Investment-Needs-FINAL-1.pdf.

[2] Walton, Brett. “Water Woes Loom for Michigan Suburbs, Towns after Decades of Disinvestment.” Circle of Blue, Brett Walton Https://Www.circleofblue.org/Wp-Content/Uploads/2018/06/Circle-of-Blue-Water-Speaks-600x139.Png, 11 May 2022, https://www.circleofblue.org/2022/great-lakes/water-woes-loom-for-michigan-suburbs-towns-after-decades-of-disinvestment/.