Infrastructure Bill Passes, Now the Work Begins in the Great Lakes Basin


Photo: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 9, 2021, joined by Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad and construction workers, visits the Benton Harbor site where the first lead service lines were being replaced after her expedited commitment to replace 100% of those lines in the city in 18 months.

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey

Michigan has a gigantic opportunity to provide clean drinking water, clean up sewage and stormwater runoff, and restore the Great Lakes—while promoting access for all to clean, safe, affordable water—after last Friday’s final bipartisan Congressional action on the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. President Joe Biden in a statement said he will sign the legislation this week.

As FLOW begins to review what the $1.2 trillion bill means for environmental investments in Michigan, one of our guiding principles will be the need to assure the federal money goes where it is needed most—to help communities that are unable to drink their water safely and affordably, and to address our most urgent water pollution problems. National and state leadership is critical to securing equitable access to water.

FLOW has continued to urge state and federal officials to address lead, PFAS, and other contaminants in drinking water and to assure water affordability for water customers facing shutoffs because of skyrocketing rates. During the early months of the pandemic, FLOW demanded a water shutoff moratorium. This state water policy resulted in significantly lower rates of infection and death from the pandemic. The state should program some of the new federal funding to address the urgent matter of water affordability.

Nationally, the legislation spends $55 billion on water and wastewater infrastructure. It has $15 billion to replace lead pipes and $10 billion to address water contamination from PFAS substances.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says that Michigan should receive a total of $10 billion in federal aid from the bill, including funding for roads, bridges, energy efficiency, and environmental needs. 

One of the best early analyses of the bill’s environmental impact in Michigan as provided by Bridge Magazine, which notes the state will receive:

  • $1.3 billion for water infrastructure, including replacement of lead lines that contaminate drinking water in communities like Benton Harbor and Flint and funds to address widespread PFAS chemical contamination.
  • $1 billion in public transportation improvements.
  • $110 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have an extra $1 billion to spend over five years on Great Lakes restoration. This infusion of funds should be spent to have lasting benefits for the Lakes. Because it comes from an infrastructure bill, it makes sense for much of the money to be spent on green infrastructure—restoring wetlands, cleaning up urban stormwater, and improving stream hydrology.

The federal money will come to Michigan at a time when the Governor has ordered a complete review of the state’s water program and laws in the wake of an overdue state response to lead contamination in the water supply of the City of Benton Harbor that has been challenged by community groups and organizations including FLOW.

One of the biggest obstacles to the allocation of the funds in Michigan may be reaching agreement between Governor Whitmer and the Legislature. They have not yet agreed on how to spend $5.7 billion in federal funds from the federal COVID-19 relief bill passed earlier this year

Pres. Biden is pushing a second, larger piece of legislation called the Build Back Better Act, which includes what the White House calls “the largest effort to combat climate change in American history.” It is unclear when Congress will take up the approximately $1.75 billion bill.

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