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Highland Park gets $10 million from state for water infrastructure needs

Lead pipes like this one still bring water into many U.S. homes.
Seth Perlman
Lead pipes like this one still bring water into many U.S. homes.

Highland Park is taking home the lion’s share of the latest round of state grants to communities looking to upgrade their water infrastructure.

Of just over $11 million in grants, the small city within Detroit’s borders is getting a little more than $10 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. It will go toward replacing water mains and lead service lines.

Hugh McDiarmid, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), said local grant proposals are judged based on several criteria, “and part of that criteria is need. And older communities with lots of infrastructure problems have greater need than some of the newer communities.”

“This is federal and state grant money that will help them replace some of this aging infrastructure without burdening the ratepayers and the citizens of Highland Park," McDiarmid said.

That’s important in this case, because in addition to its water infrastructure needs, Highland Park also faces the crushing burden of repaying the Great Lakes Water Authority more than $50 million. The city and regional water authority are now in court-ordered mediation, trying to work out a payment plan for years of disputed bills that Highland Park didn’t pay.

That’s the result of a long court battle that ended earlier this year, when a state court against Highland Park and in favor of GLWA. That left the low-income city with a water bill so massive that it sparked city officials to call for an expedited bankruptcy. (Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration denied that request, and the state has intervened in the ongoing mediation.)

Highland Park has also dealt with high lead levels in drinking water in the recent past — in 2019, the city was well over the federal action limit. McDiarmid said testing from the past two years shows the city has come back within acceptable limits, but still faces the expense of removing at least 5% of its lead service lines each year to comply with state law.

McDiarmid added that since 2019, over $4 billion in state and federal funds have gone to Michigan communities to help them “deal with the backlog of water infrastructure problems, and continue to provide safe drinking water to people and manage wastewater appropriately.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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