Communities throughout Michigan face challenge of updating aging water and sewer systems
A new report commissioned by the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Assn. (MITA) found Michigan and its communities are not keeping up with the multimillion-dollar investments needed to ensure clean drinking water and wastewater treatment for residents and businesses.
The report, prepared by Public Sector Consultants (PSC) for MITA, says investment statewide is hundreds of millions of dollars below what is needed each year. Communities throughout Michigan face the challenge of updating and maintaining infrastructure, with most drinking water and wastewater systems built between 50 and 100 years ago. Some date back to the 1800s.
Findings from the report detailed significant gaps in the infrastructure needs and level of investment from communities across the state.
According to the report’s estimates, Michigan is under-investing in its drinking water infrastructure by $284 to $583 million each year. From 2004 and 2013, the average annual investment in drinking water infrastructure was $447 million, compared to an annual need of between $731 million and $1.01 billion. This estimate does not take into account the additional investment needed to restore clean drinking water for Flint, where damaged pipes have allowed lead to leach into the water supply.
Storm water and wastewater estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggest Michigan’s needed investment totals approximately $2.14 billion, although that figure does not reflect anticipated long-term costs due to underreporting. Census data show, between 2004 and 2013, communities in Michigan spent an average of $691 million each year on wastewater and storm water infrastructure.
“The time to be more proactive is now,” said Lance Binoniemi, MITA vice president of government affairs. “The underfunding of our underground infrastructure has been going on for much longer than the recent Flint crisis. Sewer and water systems are critical resources that aren’t being acknowledged or dealt with until we’re in the midst of a crisis. An essential role of government is to ensure communities have reliable drinking water and wastewater treatment. We need to make an important investment in the health and well-being of Michigan residents by addressing our infrastructure needs.”
Serious deficiencies in water infrastructure were exposed by a series of recent crises in Michigan, including:
- a statewide power outage in 2003 that shut down major public water systems;
- the recent crisis related to lead contamination when the city of Flint switched to using the Flint River as its drinking water source;
- and flooding in 2014 that forced shutdowns of five freeways and roads throughout southeast Michigan.
PSC conducted a thorough analysis of water infrastructure spending in Michigan by looking at data from the U.S. Census Bureau. PSC also examined data from the Municipal Advisory Council of Michigan, which maintains records of outstanding bond debt held by Michigan communities, to gain insight into all open loans related to water and sewer infrastructure. The report also used surveys from the EPA to estimate drinking water investment needs, and wastewater and storm water investment needs in reaching the report’s conclusions.
“These findings go beyond the headlines in the news and provide critical insight into the severity of Michigan’s infrastructure needs,” said Jonathon Beard, environmental consultant at PSC. “Michigan residents are justifiably concerned over the safety of their water. We were pleased to work on this important project to shed light on the need for improved investment in the state’s aging water and sewer infrastructure.”