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Benton Harbor could receive $20 million to replace lead water pipes

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"Every Michigander deserves access to safe drinking water." Those were the words of Governor Gretchen Whitmer in her announcement to expand the state’s Clean Water Plan.

Benton Harbor could soon get $20 million to replace all of its lead pipes.

The water in Benton Harbor has been contaminated with lead for the past three years, making it unsafe to drink. This proposal will allow the city to replace every pipe over the next five years.

"I wanted to jump for joy, because it’s about time," said Benton Harbor resident Kevin King.

Turning on his faucet, King won’t even think about drinking the water.

"Before we got the filters, the water did have a funny taste to it."

He got a free water filter installed six months ago, but still only uses it for laundry and dishes.

Dozens of Benton Harbor residents told us that the color, smell, and discoloration of their tap water has forced them to buy bottled water for years.

"Benton Harbor is a good place, but with the bad water, people are buying and buying and buying bottled waters-- that’s costing them a lot of money. It gets very costly after while."

In the last three years, the city’s water has failed six straight lead tests.

"When you’re out of compliance with the lead and copper rule, you don’t know what the level of lead coming into your particular home is. So it’s just better to use caution, flush those lines first thing in the day and also use a filter," said Jill Ryan.

Jill Ryan with Freshwater Future has helped provide filters and fought to fix the lead issues. She says there’s a laundry list of issues connected to drinking it.

"All kinds of kidney disease, lower IQ, ADHD-- so there’s lots of health consequences to drinking water that contains lead."

Ryan says the $20 million will be a great solution in replacing the pipes, but her focus is still on the now.

"They have been suffering from this for now three years, and we want to make sure that they’re safe and have the right resources of water and filters and all the safeguards that they need," said Ryan.

Berrien County Health Department has handed out filters to more than 2,600 homes in the city. King says it’ll be nice to not need them in the future.

"We have neighbors here, we have children here, and having those pipes will be a wonder. It would be a very big benefit for us," said King.
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It’s expected to cost $30 million to replace all of the city’s lead pipes. The $20 million from the governor, plus other smaller grants, should cover it all.

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