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In this series, Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith looks at how the Flint water crisis has affected, or could affect, other water systems in Michigan - especially those with lead water service lines. It also considers how potential changes to lead in water rules at the federal, and especially the state level, will impact water systems. Scroll below to see the entire series of reports.

This week state holds first public meeting on big potential changes to lead in water rules

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
A bucket of lead water pipe "goosenecks" in Muskegon, Michigan.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality is unveiling changes to lead in water rules this week.

Communities in Michigan with lead water pipes will have special interest in a public meeting Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality is hosting Wednesday night.

INTERACTIVE MAP: More than half of cities with lead pipes on GLWA don't know where they are

It’s the first public meeting about sweeping changes MDEQ is proposing in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Governor Rick Snyder has tasked state regulators with fixing what he calls the “dumb and dangerous” lead and copper rule. A group of stakeholders has been meeting privately for a few months.

MDEQ is expected to strengthen lead in water rules in a number of ways, including lowering the level of acceptable lead in a community’s tap water. The “action level” of 15 parts per billion of lead could drop to 10 parts per billion.

MDEQ could also increase the number and frequency of water samples a city must take.

But Mike Grenier says that probably won’t make a difference in Grand Rapids, where he’s superintendent of the city’s water filtration plant near the shores of Lake Michigan.

In Flint and Washington D.C., water officials changed the water source or treatment, Grenier notes. That’s what caused lead levels to spike. But Grenier says Grand Rapids doesn’t have any plans to switch water sources or treatment, so he doesn’t see the need to increase sampling in Grand Rapids.

"It’s not going to make anyone safer, but it is a real cost, and we’ll do whatever we have to do to be compliant, but I hate wasting people’s money,” Grenier said.

Grand Rapids has changed a number of practices since the Flint water crisis, including paying to replace lead water pipes, even if they’re on private property and even if water samples don’t show elevated lead levels.

That’s another potential controversial change that’ll be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Madison Heights started doing the same thing this summer, according to Joe Vitale, who directs the city’s public service department.

“It was a no brainer for us. I mean we looked at it and we said our water and sewer fund can support doing this, let’s do this and be proactive,” Vitale said.

But Madison Heights only had 38 lead water lines. Not every city is as lucky to have so few and to have enough money available to replace them.

Tuesday’s meeting is a chance for the public to review and ask questions about the proposed rules, which haven’t been released yet. You can find a sneak peek here. A more formal hearing is tentatively set for the end of January.  After that, some the rule changes would have to go through state lawmakers for approval. 

This story was changed to correct the day of the state's public meeting.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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