Opinion | Fix the damn pipes, Gov. Whitmer

Bonnifer Ballard is executive director of the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new administration is off to an encouraging start with her vow to improve Michigan’s aging infrastructure, including plans to upgrade water and sewer systems that are 50 to 100 years old.

Much debate has focused on fixing Michigan roads, which are labeled among the worst in the nation. The delivery of clean, safe water to homes and businesses is the “invisible infrastructure” that often gets short shrift in public discussions, though it gained international attention from the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water.

Just as smooth, accessible roads are essential to a state’s economy, so is a safe and reliable water supply. The average family of four in the U.S. consumes about 300 gallons of water daily, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Yet 46 percent of all the water consumed in the U.S. is used to manufacture products.

Gov. Whitmer’s Rebuild Michigan Plan acknowledges that the state underfunds its water and sewer systems by $800 million a year. It calls for expedited replacement of old lead water lines in cities across the state, money to clean up contaminated groundwater and long-term funding of improvements to water delivery and sewer systems through a beefed-up Rebuild Michigan Bank.

More than 7.2 million Michigan residents get their water from the state’s lakes, rivers and aquifers, and they draw from about 1,425 community water systems. Those customers pay less than $1 a day on average to have water delivered to their homes, schools and businesses. While users of those systems should expect to pay more for the kind of service they’ve come to expect, it’s time for the state and federal governments to step up and increase funding for the most basic and important commodity we use – clean, safe water.  

The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission made great strides in identifying and prioritizing Michigan’s water systems, roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs. Answers to the funding challenges now need to be addressed.

Our Great Lakes State is surrounded by 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. It ought to be a standard-bearer for the protection and delivery of safe water. We hope Gov. Whitmer and the new Legislature can agree on solutions to make Michigan that leader.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Wed, 02/06/2019 - 7:39am

Given that the pipes you refer to were put in by the cities or the home owner and belong to them, why is the govenor's (meaning the state tax payers) job and responsibility to replace them?

Le Roy G. Barnett
Wed, 02/06/2019 - 9:27am

Matt: What is your position on millions of state-collected tax dollars going to support the construction of water and sewer lines in Salem Township, Washtenaw County? Should these types of Republican actions be role models for the governor to follow, or examples of what to avoid?

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:15am

The same.

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 9:50am

Probably because many communities, especially the smaller towns, don't have revenue streams available to undertake the large scale infrastructure replacement. Put your hatred of every single thing the government does aside for five seconds and recognize that Michigan's water system is a public good that is not going to be addressed by the market

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:22am

Again Bones, these lines were usually paid for by the homeowners, builders and developers. Occasionally (rarely) by the the communities but not often. When the community does it they usually hit you with an assessment. I've paid for a lot of them myself and didn't ask the taxpayers for help! Why should the state pay for these and not mine?

Barry Visel
Wed, 02/06/2019 - 3:32pm

Great point Matt, made even more meaningfull when you realize many of those pipes were funded by state and federal grants and low interest loans in the first place (I wrote those kind of grants back in the 70’s when 80% grant dollars were doled out). Projects were built with other people’s tax dollars, but user rates were never set high enough to create a depreciation fund to replace them when their useful life expired. The state isn’t going to help people when their well or septic system fails, so why should those people support municipal systems through tax dollars. Snyder’s proposed user fee to fund water and sewer improvements was a good idea. We should not be spending state or federal tax dollars on local infrastructure projects (including that $20 million that went to a developer), especially when the locals won’t set rates high enough to cover future costs, including life cycle replacement.

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:43am

Barry so why do we want reward cities for not planning for eventual repairs and replacement? Or more likely spending those funds on other things things before the repairs are needed.

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 5:48pm

Where I live, whenever there is road project, water and sewer infrastructure is always replaced. I would assume the some of the funds are from some type of a community block grant. However by maintaining them in this way, you don't have to worry about aging infrastructure.

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 12:39pm

The population of Michigan has degraded to the point where there is not enough income to tax the amount needed to support all the residents. When 25% of the population is on Medicaid, that is a huge red flag. A more normal amount of Medicaid recipients would be about 10%. Couple that with about 25 to 30% living in crumbling cities and it is a recipe for disaster. And for how many years has the population been declining? All does not bode well for Michigan. Eventually we will have 1 Representative and 2 Senators in Congress.

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 1:15pm

Bonnifer again has shown her integrity. Her and her staff at the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association are out standing people. I am proud and pleased to be a member of the MI AWW.
Remember, Michigan chose to be the only state in the union to assure its residents that we will "get the lead out" as a Water Supervisor in a small underfunded City in Michigan, I am for it, but it will cost a great deal of money for our residents, money, they do not have enough of.

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 5:41pm

and WHAT did Snyder the Snake and them republicans iLandsing do for 8 years,,, steal for the people!!!

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 5:42pm

And Poison the city of Flint with Agent Orange!!!

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 5:51pm

What they are missing is a lot of money had to be transferred to other areas due to federal mandates. This has a lot to do with the condition of the roads also.