Gov. Whitmer proposes $300 million to replace lead lines for local utilities

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday proposed $300 million in water spending to help local utilities address elevated lead levels, plan for pipe replacement and connect users of contaminated wells to municipal supplies.

The governor said the funding would expand her $500 million MI Clean Water Plan, some of which has been authorized since it was unveiled more than a year ago. The new funds, which would come from U.S. pandemic relief dollars, would need to be approved by Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature.

The proposal would complement Whitmer’s September request that lawmakers allocate $200 million to replace lead water lines across the state amid a crisis in Benton Harbor. She said there is a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to use the federal dollars to "put Michiganders first and make lasting investments in our water infrastructure."

The $6.5 billion in federal discretionary funding was approved by Congress and President Joe Biden in March. Most of it has yet to be disbursed by the Legislature.

Under the Democratic governor’s proposal, the $300 million would be split as follows:

  • $100 million for communities exceeding the federal lead threshold to replace service lines or provide other solutions.
  • $50 million for communities to pay engineering firms to help plan pipe replacement and other infrastructure upgrades, with priority going to disadvantaged communities and those with lead exceedances.
  • $150 million for suppliers to switch homes and other buildings with contaminated private wells to safe drinking water.

Whitmer said the new water proposal and ones she outlined previously are separate from an estimated $1.3 billion for water infrastructure that the state will receive from the federal infrastructure bill Biden signed this week.

Environmental groups, trade unions and public health experts urged legislators to act quickly.

"We can’t wait any longer," said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

Senate Republicans have unveiled a $2.5 billion water infrastructure proposal that would be funded primarily with federal COVID-19 relief aid. Their plan includes $600 million for pipe replacements.

It remains unclear when the Legislature, in conjunction with the governor, will start spending $5.7 billion in unallocated federal discretionary funding.