On Sunday, August 14, a water main broke that carries water from Lake Huron to many Michigan communities. Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that four counties are under a state of emergency. Residents in Lapeer, Macomb, Oakland, and St. Clair counties–nearly 130,000 people–could go without fresh water for nearly a month.
According to Fox 2 out of Detroit, the Lake Huron Water Treatment Facility found a 120-inch break in a pipe. The break affected 930,000 residents over the weekend and is likely to impact even more. Those 130,000 people are currently under a boil water advisory. Those living in the village of Almont, Bruce Township, Burtchville Township, Imlay City, Rochester, Shelby Township, and Washington Township should continue boiling water before any use, such as cooking or drinking, until further notice. A new pipe is being shipped to southeast Michigan, which should take about a week to install. Another week is needed for water testing before the advisory is lifted.
“We are drawing on every resource we have and taking every action necessary to get impacted families the help they need,” Governor Whitmer announced in a statement. She said in part, “On Saturday, I activated the State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate our response efforts, and with today’s state of emergency declaration, we are ensuring that state resources will be available as long as the impacted communities need them.”
GLWA Chief Executive Officer Suzanne R. Coffey said they did not expect the break and the facility could not prevent it. “It’s not something that we expected, she said. “So, it happened in a very unanticipated way, but we’re on it. We are working on it around the clock. We’ve got boots on the ground right away. We’ve got people in place to do the assessments that need to be done, and we’ll continue to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
Michigan’s History With Water Crises
To this day, many residents in Flint, Michigan will not drink their tap water. That’s because from 2014 to 2016, the water supply for an entire community was contaminated with lead. The government only gave the all-clear in 2018, after years of rust-colored water, toxic lead exposure, and Legionnaires’ disease. Still, there is still lead present in much of Flint’s drinking water, as a number of residents still use lead pipes. The amount stayed just below the federal action level from 2016 to 2018, when former governor Rick Snyder gave the all-clear.
The crisis began in 2014 when Flint switched its water source from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in order to save money. Residents complained of foul-smelling water and mounting health issues. But, their cries went relatively ignored. The water tripled the amount of lead in children’s blood, which put them at severe risk. With an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, the city added chlorine to the water. This raised total trihalomethane levels in its residents, chemicals from over-chlorination that can cause cancer.
Flint citizens rallied together and sued the city and its government. They demanded water testing and treatment and bottled water for residents until they resolved the crisis. There was also a settlement that required the city to replace all lead pipes. Even now, residents still return to court to make sure their government is meeting the requirements.