Federal and state regulators order Benton Harbor to repair its water supply system, after inspections reveal numerous violations

Note: Bottled water is available for residents of Benton Harbor. For a list of distribution sites and times, click on here or dial 2-1-1.

Federal and state regulators have ordered the city of Benton Harbor to make changes to its water supply system after an inspection found dozens of violations.

Tests have repeatedly shown high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water, dating back to 2018.

“The people of Benton Harbor have suffered for too long,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement announcing the new actions. “Lead exposure in children can have irreversible and permanent health effects, including decreased IQ, concentration and academic achievement. Benton Harbor’s water infrastructure, like many cities across the country, needs to be modernized and invested to build resilience and protect people from lead.

Federal and state regulators inspected the Benton Harbor water plant and interviewed staff for four days in September and October, according to a report released by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, which was obtained by Michigan Radio. This report concluded: “The City does not have the technical, management and financial (TMF) capacity necessary to support the water service.

The report listed a series of three dozen “deficiencies” in the management of the city’s drinking water supply, ranging from crumbling concrete on a water tank to broken filters and poor performance. files.

In addition, the state listed 133 addresses in the city that were known or suspected to have lead service lines for their drinking water supply. These lead pipes could increase the risk of lead exposure, and the state requires cities to notify people when they discover the existence of lead service lines. Despite this requirement, the EGLE report states that there is no evidence that the Town of Benton Harbor ever informed residents of the 133 listed addresses.

The report also found that the water supply system is not generating enough money to cover operation and maintenance costs. And it’s not clear how the city can generate cash without making water unaffordable for residents.

“A demonstration of the financial capacity of the water system to operate in a sustainable and compliant manner is necessary to restore financial capacity,” says the EGLE report.

Overall, the EGLE report lists 12 “significant deficiencies” and 24 “minor deficiencies” in the Benton Harbor water supply system.

EPA and EGLE are calling on the city to take action to correct the deficiencies.

The EPA ordinance lists the actions required in eight categories of violations. EGLE lists 19 “required actions” that the city must take within 120 days.

“Today’s action is not intended as a punitive exercise, but rather as a transparent way to identify the urgent needs of the community of Benton Harbor so that federal, state, local and community partners can work. together to prioritize them as we continue our work to ensure that all residents of Benton Harbor have access to safe drinking water, ”Scott Dean, EGLE spokesperson, said in an email to Michigan Radio. “EGLE will continue to work to help residents resolve both the obvious system issues in the facility and, more urgently, the current primary issue which is, and rightly, the immediate focus of our resources.”

The state continues to distribute bottled water to residents of Benton Harbor. A list of distribution sites is available here.

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