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New laws make it easier for communities to access state financing for water infrastructure

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Lester Graham
/
Michigan Radio
Fixing a broken water main in Tecumseh, Michigan. Some smaller communities have only been able to afford to patch older systems when they needed to be replaced.

Bipartisan legislation to help cities get money to fix their water systems has been signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

A lot of Michigan's drinking water systems are in bad shape.

“We have been very behind in maintaining and upgrading our infrastructure across the state,” Charlotte Jameson with the Michigan Environmental Council.

Many smaller communities haven’t repaired or replaced their drinking water systems. Part of the reason is because they couldn’t easily access the financing offered by the state. They often couldn’t afford to risk money on expensive engineering plans required for a loan application when there was no guarantee they would get the money.

“A lot of communities were just going to the bond market because the barriers were a lot less to access financing and the interest rates were around the same amount or less,” Jameson explained.

She said Michigan got a lot of federal money for water infrastructure. It’s going into the State Revolving Loan Fund.

“And if communities cannot access that money easily, then we’re not going to see the benefit of allocating that funding,” Jameson said.

The new laws make it easier to apply. They state will also adjust its interest rates annually to make them more competitive. And now Michigan agencies can factor in the state of the economy and other challenges in considering a loan for disadvantaged communities.

Even with this new help coming, many cities will struggle with water infrastructure maintenance because state government has been short-changing communities by not sharing sales tax revenue at the level it once did.

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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