Engineers warn underfunding in upgrades to Michigan water systems 'could lead to major crises'

Posted at 3:39 PM, Aug 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-17 18:24:05-04

(WXYZ) — Michigan contains 21% of the world’s freshwater. However, we are learning our water systems are far from great.

Right now, more than 100,000 people are under a boil water advisory after a 10-foot-wide high pressure main failed in St. Clair County.

It should not come as a surprise.

Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report warning that underfunding in upgrades to our Michigan's water systems “could lead to major crises affecting millions.”

The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is currently working to fix a break in a 10-foot-wide water main that has left many struggling to find drinkable water.

RELATED: 100,000 Michiganders remain under GLWA's boil water advisory following Saturday's water main break

Boiling water is the new normal at Michael Gielniak’s Shelby Township home.

"We have our big pot we have been boiling water," Gielniak said.

'We need more water': Local officials say more state help is needed amid boil water advisory

He is boiling water as advised before he or his pet drink it. Finding bottled water is hit or miss.

"Went up to Walmart the other day. Pretty much the entire water aisle was empty," Gielniak said.

GLWA's CEO Suzanne Coffey says the break happened in a 10-foot-wide water main installed in St. Clair County in 1973.

Officials visit site of water main break | Video courtesy Macomb County Executive Office

The authority says the 49-year-old underground high pressure water pipe had an expected usable life of 50 to 100 years.

The authority relies on sensors that monitor water pressure to signal a problem.

New technology allows for unmanned inspections, but pipes installed decades ago don’t have access for that.

"As America’s infrastructure ages, and we put a lot of this infrastructure in the whole country in the 70s, we are all at the point where we are saying we got to get in these pipes. We got to look at them. That is were we are at," Coffey said.

Kelly Karll, the manager of environment and infrastructure at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), points out that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan’s water infrastructure a "D" grade in 2018.

They said Michigan has underfunded water system improvements by $284 million to $563 million in recent years. This is in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Karll says recent federal infrastructure investments help but are not a total solution.

"The federal infrastructure bill allows for about $50 billion nationally on water infrastructure. That means Michigan will get about $1 billion over the next five years in addition and what I am saying is just in our seven counties, we need about $3.5 billion annually," Karll said.

Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash says the price will only go up.

"If we don’t have the investments, down the road it is going to be more expensive. Emergency repairs are far more expensive," Nash said.

And they aren’t always fast. GLWA says it could be Sept. 3 before this break is fixed.

"It's scary how one problem can cause huge problems for millions of people," Gielniak said.

If you are impacted and trying to figure out how to get water, check out some resources below:

  • Village of Almont water distribution | August 18th from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. (or until supplies last) at the Municipal Hall (817 N. Main Street). Verification of residency is required.
  • Shelby Township water distribution | August 17 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Whispering Woods Park (11000 21 Mile Road), Ford Feild Central Park (7460 23 Mile Road) and River Bends Park (4101 River Bend Drive)