According to a Detroit News report, on February 17th, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality submitted a request to the federal government for $100 million to improve its water treatment plant, make system improvements and replace underground pipes. This is the same amount approved by Congress last year following the contamination crisis that made headlines. Before the funding can be given, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must review the “intended use plan.” The plan includes $20 million of match funds already accepted by the State of Michigan. The request is similar to one put forward last month by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.
Detroit News reported that the money would be distributed through the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, which means it would be administered through various loans that would automatically be forgiven. If the money is distributed in a timely manner, the city plans to improve the water treatment plant starting in June using $58.5 million of the proposed funding. However, improvements to the water treatment plant would require a separate plan. Additionally, $40 million would go toward a 2-year plan to replace underground pipes and service lines, including 12,000 lead and galvanized steel service lines throughout the city. This would effectively reduce the risk of lead contamination in the water of Flint.
The funding breakdown also includes the following:
- $10 million for distribution system and transmission main improvements
- $10 million to replace water meters
- $1.5 million for technical assistance
Improving transmission and distribution systems and replacing water meters would be essential for decreasing the potential for water loss. Reducing the amount of lost water would also help “insure an appropriate rate is charged to customers.” In the end, this would create “a suitable revenue stream to fund future maintenance and replacement needs in the larger system,” according to the federal funding request.
The Bigger Picture
All this comes on the heels of a contamination “State-of-Emergency” in 2016, when it was discovered that the recent decision in 2014 to change the main water source to Flint River caused old pipes to leak lead into the drinking water. It wasn’t until 2015 that Governor, Rick Snyder, put funding toward the effort to switch back to the original source, Lake Huron.
To date, according to a report from the House Fiscal Agency, Flint has used over $250 million of Federal resources to deal with the crisis. Additionally, Gov. Snyder recently stopped refunding people who have been affected by the contamination. The Governor pointed to recent tests showing lead levels to be lower than federal limits.
Given the recent efforts by the President and Republicans in Congress to dismantle Environmental regulations, it remains unclear whether the EPA will approve the funding. After all, the GOP has already successfully repealed a rule that would have prevented coal mining companies from dumping in nearby streams. It therefore seems unlikely that they will want to give funding to Flint. However, statute put in place by the Obama administration and both parties in Congress might force their hand.