• Susan Poirier

Politics of Michigan’s Water

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

As the Flint water crisis unfolded, we learned to never take the safety of our drinking water for granted. We put trust in government officials to ensure our drinking water is safe, and the system has failed.

We are awoke because of Flint.

Despite skin rashes, hair loss, and coffee-brown water flowing from faucets with a putrid smell and taste, the people of Flint were told over and over that their water was safe to drink, and it was not. The people endured dismissals, delays, and outright lies. Flint’s children suffered from high levels of lead exposure, and twelve people died of Legionnaire’s disease.

Flint continues to struggle with a health crisis—there is no amount of lead exposure that is safe—and the pain of environmental injustice runs deep.

Irrational cost-cutting measures by state-appointed emergency managers led to the decision to switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, and the decision to not treat the city’s water pipes with required corrosion-control resulted in toxic leaching of lead into the city’s drinking water.

Governor Rick Snyder signed the new Michigan Lead and Copper Rule standards, described as the strictest in the country, into law in June 2018. But just two weeks after signing the new rule, Snyder signed the controversial ‘polluter panel’ bills, S. 652, 653, 654 into law. These new laws allow industry representatives to sit on state panels (members are appointed by the governor, not elected) giving them power to influence and even override environmental policy.

Fifteen beaches were closed over Labor Day weekend due to high bacterial contamination, in locations all over the state—Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, Traverse City, Fisherman’s Island State Park in Charlevoix.

Michigan is surrounded by the largest system of freshwater in the world. Our health, economy, and recreation is dependent on pure and safe water—the campaign Pure Michigan says it best—our fishing industry, 3200 miles of shoreline and 11,000 inland lakes, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore nestled on Lake Michigan, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Isle Royale in Lake Superior.

Following errors made by government officials in Flint, it’s difficult to rationalize how the Michigan GOP could push a package of bills (now law) that risk conflict of interest as S. 652, 653, 654 do—granting powerful influence to corporations and utilities that lobby for decreased environmental oversight instead of unbiased representation to protect our public health, environment, and water.

Wolverine Worldwide dumped toxic PFAS chemicals for decades (since 1958) throughout Plainfield Township in Kent County. Due to a rigorous state water testing program now underway, we know that at least seventeen Michigan municipal water systems have tested positive for PFAS above 5 parts per trillion (ppt). PFAS is pervasive, and there is no known safe limit of exposure.

But in the summer of 2018 we learned that the MDEQ was warned in 2012, five years before the Wolverine Worldwide contamination was revealed, that Michigan had high-risk for widespread PFAS contamination. This 2012 report was suppressed, and five years’ of public health education and protection was delayed.

Regaining trust is a difficult process but can only be based on transparency, never cover-ups or delays. To restore confidence that government is working to protect Michiganders’ health and safety first, we need stronger regulations and enforcement, not less.


Gov Rick Snyder signs controversial ‘polluter panels’ bills. Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press. June 29, 2018.

Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts. cnn U.S. April 8, 2018.

Governor Rick Snyder: Improved Lead and Copper Rule will better protect all Michiganders, be a role model for the nation. Office of Governor Rick Snyder. June 14, 2018.

15 Michigan beaches closed, have contamination advisories heading into Labor Day weekend. Tanda Gmiter, mlive. August 31, 2018.

Major warning about Michigan PFAS crisis came 6 years ago. Garrett Ellison, mlive. July 12, 2018.

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