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PFAS foam on a lakeshore in Michigan Photo: Jim Malewitz, The Bridge Michigan
Whether it is drinking water in Michigan, floodwaters in Missouri and Mississippi, dams versus salmon in Washington and Idaho, or wastewater from fracking in North Dakota — clean water is an issue that runs through the primaries that are taking place today. In Michigan, in particular, clean water issues dominate the environmental conversation — including extensive PFAS contamination, the depletion of Michigan’s extensive groundwater supplies by Nestle for bottled water, the cost of water for citizens in Detroit, and the dangers of the 70-year-old Enbridge Pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway connecting Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.
Why This Matters: The two remaining Democratic candidates have not had a chance to discuss these important water issues in the debates thus far. The mainstream media has been focused on trade, jobs and health care as the primary issues in these primaries, but we believe that water should have gotten more attention. For each of the states holding primaries tomorrow, water issues have been central to their state politics and the water issues above are a microcosm of the clean water issues that are key around the country. We may not have heard about them yet, but we will. In Michigan’s Gubernatorial race in 2018, the Republican and Democratic candidates campaigned extensively on water issues. We believe this could happen again in 2020 — where Michigan will likely be ground zero in the Presidential campaign.
A Deep Dive on Michigan Water
The problem of lead in Flint’s drinking water is well known and still has not been fully resolved. But Michigan’s water issues are far deeper and more significant, and very much on the mind of the electorate there. Huffington Post reported that In 2019, public polls in Michigan found that one-quarter of the voters marked fixing infrastructure as their top concern in a survey, and in another poll, three-quarters of Michigan voters listed a candidate’s commitment to “strong investment” in water infrastructure as “very or fairly important.”
Extensive testing across the state due to the lead contamination in Flint revealed another problem that had not previously been understood — that PFAS, toxic chemicals from flame retardants — was found in 192 sites across the state. Republicans and Democrats at the state and federal level have turned up the heat to both control PFAS emissions and to get funding to clean up the sites that are already contaminated. The Enbridge Pipeline is more of a partisan issue with Republicans favoring the replacement of the current aging pipeline, and Democrats in favor of scrapping it. The pipeline carries dirty Canadian crude to refineries in Michigan but if there were an oil leak or spill it would contaminate Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Finally, Detroit’s drinking water is so expensive that many people there cannot afford it and the city is turning off water to residents. At the same time, freshwater for bottling is being essentially given away to multinational corporations. In 2018, the state, under its prior Republican Governor, allowed Nestlé, $300 billion company, to pump water from the state in exchange for a paltry $200 per facility in minor yearly clerical fees while increasing its water extraction from 250 to 400 gallons per minute.
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