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Gov. Snyder wants $5 fee on drinking water for pipe fixes

By Jim Malewitz/Bridge Magazine • Feb 6, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Gov. Rick Snyder pitched a plan Thursday to raise $110 million per year to fix Michigan’s busted and rusted water and sewer systems — and to replace lead service lines in the wake of Flint’s water crisis.

The funding source: Michigan ratepayers.

Snyder, a Republican, proposed phasing in a state fee on users of public water systems that serve 1,000 or more people. The fee would start at $1 and increase by another $1 per year until capping at $5 per year in 2024.

“Critical updates are necessary to rebuild our state’s failing water infrastructure,” Snyder said in a statement. “Investing in our state’s water infrastructure needs is essential to ensure every Michigander has access to safe drinking water, protect our environment and continue our state’s outstanding economic growth.”

In 2016, a commission assembled by Snyder concluded Michigan was short $800 million per year to meet water and sewer system needs due to decades of deferred maintenance.

Meanwhile, Snyder is pushing a separate proposal that would require some water utilities to replace all of their lead drinking water service lines lines over 20 years. That’s in response to the scandal that exploded in Flint after a state-appointed emergency manager ordered a switch of municipal water sources that led to the release of lead from pipes into city drinking water.

Some skeptics, including fellow Republicans and utility officials, say Snyder’s proposed lead-in-water rules are overly ambitious and expensive. Much of the money raised under Snyder’s proposal would go to local grants for lead line replacements.

Though Flint is now internationally associated with Michigan’s failing water infrastructure, it’s far from the only example. Last October, a water main break in Oakland County made water unsafe to drink for several days for more than 300,000 people. A year earlier, a collapsed sewer line triggered a massive sinkhole in Macomb County. Local officials completed a $75 million repair project in December.

In a press release, Snyder’s office called the added fees “affordable.” The plan requires legislative approval.

The announcement comes two days after Snyder proposed increasing Michigan’s comparatively low fee on landfill dumping to replenish funding for cleanups at thousands of polluted sites across Michigan. That plan that would cost the average Michigan household an extra $4.75 per year, according to the governor’s estimates.

To make either proposal a reality, Snyder, who is term-limited and in his final year in office, would need buy in from a Republican-controlled legislature that has increasingly gone its own way on taxing and environmental issues.

On Thursday, Snyder’s office said 80 percent of the extra money from extra water system fees would fund projects in the region that collected it.

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