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New program helps Michigan communities get the money needed to update water systems

Michigan Municipal League Foundation
The first step of the effort is a website to help cities understand the process. The second step is getting those cities help from consultants.

A study last year by the University of Michigan titled Drinking Water Equity found that Michigan was dead last among the states for accessing State Revolving Fund loans and grants to update drinking water systems. It found small communities and more racially diverse ones are less likely to receive assistance.

Michigan Municipal League Foundation
Michigan Municipal League Foundation personnel and Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool explain the MI Water Navigator program during an online news conference on Monday.

During an online news conference, the Michigan Municipal League Foundation said it wants to help cities navigate the state and federal red tape in the application process for the funds. The group is launching a program called MI Water Navigator.

“To help them get application ready, to help them get applications submitted, and to navigate really all of the kind of complex nuances that come into drinking water infrastructure funding at the state and federal levels,” said Grace Carey, program officer of the foundation.

The first phase of the program has launched in the form of the website miwaternavigator.org.

The U of M study also found smaller cities often don’t have the staff or the expertise to get through the application process.

“And having a couple of extra hands to help navigate those funding sources to help get them application ready is sometimes the push the community needs to get that application and get that funding in the door,” Carey said.

The second phase will involve getting the municipalities that help from the private firm OHM Advisors for free. It will offer assistance in putting together the applications for low interest loans.

For the poorest communities, a loan might not seem possible given the state of their finances, but sometimes the loans are forgiven.

The effort is being paid for by two private grants from foundations.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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