Government, Health Care, and Law

Communities suing state over water rules

December 14, 2018
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DETROIT — Local governments and utilities are suing the state over its implementation of the nation's toughest drinking water rules for lead, saying they support strong action against public exposure to the toxin but find the new rules arbitrary and too costly for the communities left to foot the bill for the work to be done.

The Detroit-area coalition filed the suit this week against the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in the state's Court of Claims. They argue the changes made in June place a heavy financial burden on communities, infringe on private property rights and don't reach problematic fixtures inside residences.

Underground lead service lines connecting water mains to houses and other buildings would be replaced by 2040, unless a utility can show regulators it will take longer under a broader plan to repair and replace its water infrastructure. The so-called action level for lead would drop from 15 parts per billion - the federal limit - to 12 parts per billion in 2025.

"MDEQ has mandated service line replacement without any consideration, guidance, fact-finding, or solution for funding the enormous cost of this statewide infrastructure upgrade, particularly in the context of affordability, and how water supplies should fund these improvements while balancing their other public health and permit related infrastructure and legal obligations," wrote the plaintiffs, who include the Great Lakes Water Authority, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and Oakland County's water resources commissioner.

State officials have said Flint's water crisis exposed problems with lead rules and Michigan needed to adopt changes, adding that local governments have years to prepare. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, whose administration has been blamed for Flint's emergency, has called the federal rules "dumb and dangerous."

The environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council said in a release before the expected filing that the new rule "was drafted to prevent further situations like the water crisis in Flint." It adds the case "threatens to re-open the state's ugly drinking water history."

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