Michigan’s Benton Harbor water crisis plan remains at odds with demands by activists and community members
Update: Michigan agency announces bottled water, community outreach plans. Activist says they’re “not responsive” to community needs
The standoff between the Benton Harbor drinking water advocates, which includes approximately 20 diverse groups, and the state of Michigan continued Thursday.
Earlier in the week, the groups sent a letter to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that requested an emergency declaration and for residents to be told not to drink the lead-laced water. They also asked for bottled water to be supplied for six months until after the lead lines were replaced and for water “tankers.”
In the letter, the groups told the governor that the state’s reliance on filters is “misguided, superficial” and that citizens had lost trust in the state.
On Thursday, the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy issued a press release announcing its outreach plans, in concert with the Department of Health and Human Services, to support Benton Harbor during the water crisis.
“The outreach is part of a longer-term effort to reduce the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water, and to ensure residents have access to safe drinking water while the city replaces all lead service lines,” the release said.
It includes a limited supply of bottled water that will be available through mid-October and “a door-to-door campaign that will start soon to renew efforts to provide water filters to all residents and share information on how to install and maintain the filters to effectively remove lead,” according to the release.
The tankers that were requested will not be supplied spokesperson Scott Dean said after a followup inquiry. The bottled water will be distributed by volunteers.
The U.S. EPA is aware of the outreach, Dean said. On September 9, the activist groups formally filed a petition requesting the agency use its emergency authority to intervene in Benton Harbor as it did during the Flint water crisis.
I asked the EPA if the action announced by EGLE would negate the need for an emergency intervention and have yet to receive a response.
Gov. Whitmer’s office has not responded to various requests to comment on Benton Harbor’s water crisis.
Responding to my inquiry, Michigan’s Cyndi Roper said:
“EGLE's announcement is not responsive to the Benton Harbor Community Water Council's demand that the state provide bottled water and water buffaloes until at least six months after the lead service lines are replaced.”
“Further, neither EGLE nor the Governor have declared the community's tap water is unsafe to consume despite at least three years of high lead levels. It's time for EGLE leadership to deliver a safe drinking water source to the residents, and they must continue delivering the water until safe drinking water is coming out of the tap.”
Roper is a Senior Policy Advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. NRDC is one of the petitioners to the EPA.
This post will be updated as additional information is available.
Chicago-based environmental journalist