Energy & Environment

Four Great Lakes governors call on White House to aid in water infrastructure upgrades

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Four governors of Great Lakes states on Tuesday called on President Biden to prioritize improvements to the nation’s water infrastructure.

In a letter to the president, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D), Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) and Illinois J.B. Pritzker (D) noted numerous issues they attributed to failure to modernize water infrastructure.

The contamination of drinking water in Flint, Mich., for instance, reflected “historic disinvestment” in nonwhite communities’ infrastructure, “which left that former automotive powerhouse with a failing, oversized system and a shrinking rate base.”

The letter also calls for improvements to wastewater and storm water infrastructure projects, noting that increasing precipitation means Great Lakes Basin residents are at risk.

In Minnesota alone, the letter states, aging infrastructure results in “more than 200 annual releases to surface waters of partially treated or untreated wastewater that impacts downstream communities and aquatic life.”

Aging infrastructure also results in increased water main breaks, which can result in service interruptions and water-boiling advisories. These are a particular concern in the Great Lakes region, which sees colder winters, the letter notes.

The letter further cites poor dam maintenance in the region, which can lead to outcomes like the flooding that occurred in May after privately operated dams on the Tittabawassee River failed.

These issues also have environmental justice implications. Illinois, the letter notes, has more than 200 so-called unsewered communities, or those that lack wastewater treatment and collection facilities. Most of these are classified as environmental justice communities due to their racial and income demographics.

Infrastructure efforts should prioritize replacing lead service lines and getting wastewater facilities up to date, upgrading water systems and taking on structural inequalities, the letter states.

“The health of our families, 21% of the world’s fresh drinking water, and 51 million jobs depend on our immediate, collective action. We ask for your partnership and prioritization of critical water infrastructure going forward,” Whitmer wrote.

“We are grateful for the American Rescue Plan’s significant aid to our communities and await the bold infrastructure elements laid out in the Build Back Better plan and proposed in the President’s budget.”

The Biden administration has stated that it will take several steps to address the racial and income inequality associated with the environment and climate change. 

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan has said that addressing environmental justice will be a priority under his leadership.

In addition, the White House on Monday named the members of its new Environmental Justice Advisory Council. The council, created in January by one of Biden’s executive orders, will seek to address environmental racism and inequality. 

Tags Great Lakes Gretchen Whitmer J.B. Pritzker Joe Biden Michael Regan Tim Walz Tony Evers

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