The Benton Harbor Water Crisis
Benton Harbor Community Water Council are the real hero's
The Struggle that has taken place in recent years in Benton Harbor is a case in point, and one that holds
a number of lessons for the American people. The fight in Benton Harbor is a war over whether Benton
Harbor residents will have prosperity, democracy, live in poverty or have clean safe water under heels of
open corporate rule. The attack on democracy in Benton Harbor shows that corporate power structure is
determined to crush anyone who stands in its way. I would like to thank the Benton Harbor Community
Water Council for the incredible work that was done to get Benton Harbor clean safe water, without applying
continue pressure on the State and Federal government nothing would have been done. It took three long
years for government and the Mayor to acknowledge there was a water crisis. No victory lap here.
The drinking water crisis in Benton Harbor has upended the lives of thousands of residents and created an
environment and public health disaster that after years of inaction, finally captured the nation's attention. While
dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water system garnered national headlines, the drinking water crisis ran
much deeper and involved violations of several safe drinking water regulations.
The cause of this multi-faceted drinking water crisis was decades in the making and has its roots in racial discrimination
and segregation that has plagued Benton Harbor since the mid-20th century. The loss of Benton Harbor water system's
customer base has been at the root of many of its problems, first through flight of the white residents in the 1970's as the
Benton Harbor's black population was growing and then through the loss of whole wholesale and industrial customers during
the era of emergency management. With too few residents and customers to serve, the water system has struggle to generate
revenue causing cuts to the water system's staff and budget. This, in turn has caused a wide variety of water quality and
treatment issues that go beyond the lead contamination.
Thanks to the tireless faces of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council and Rev Edward Pinkney, Benton Harbor's water
system is now providing safe water to its residents -something it hasn't done for years. All the lead service lines -has been replaced.
Benton Harbor faces another pending drinking water crisis, the water , now safe to drink, is unaffordable for its residents. Even
with grant funds to cover capital cost at the water treatment plant and to replace lead service lines, a recent report found that,
Benton Harbor must raise water rates over 205 annually for the next nine years to ensure the water system covers its costs.
if this occurs, it is estimated that the average residential water bill will increase from $42 per month to $272 per month.
What is good and safe drinking water,
if residents cannot afford it?
What's happening in Benton Harbor should never ever happen to another Community, another City, another town, never ever.
-Rev Edward Pinkney
Back in 2018, high lead levels in tap water were found in Benton
Harbor. The city performed routine monitoring for lead and copper
by sampling at homes connected to the Benton Harbor Water Supply and found that more than
10% of these samples exceeded the action level for lead. There is no safe level of lead exposure. The
Benton Harbor Community Water Council has been delivering bottled water to residents
throughout our city in high hopes to keep our people as safe and as healthy as we can while
going through this time of crisis.
Higher levels of copper and lead, if left untreated, can result in serious long-term health
problems. Infants and children who drink water that contains lead may experience delayed
mental and physical development, including deficits in learning abilities and attention span.
Adults who drink this water over a long period may develop kidney problems, or high blood
pressure. People who drink water with abnormally high levels of copper may experience
gastrointestinal distress. Drinking such water over a prolonged period of time may lead to
kidney or liver problems.
One Year Later: Benton Harbor’s Lead Water Pipes Nearly 100% Removed,
Setting a New Standard for Michigan and the Nation
BENTON HARBOR, MI (October 19, 2022) – Nearly every lead drinking water line in Benton Harbor has been replaced, just one year after community activists, alarmed by three consecutive years of high lead levels found in Benton Harbor’s tap water, petitioned federal and state officials to fix the problem. In response, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a “whole-of-government” approach to ensuring safe drinking water for the majority Black community. Governor Whitmer’s executive directive provided bottled water to residents as 4,500 lead pipes were replaced six months ahead of schedule.
The following are reactions from representatives of groups that petitioned the EPA for an emergency response for safe drinking water in Benton Harbor:
“I’m a believer that community action compelling state leaders to act delivered this incredible win for Benton Harbor, the state of Michigan, and the nation. Replacing Benton Harbor’s thousands of lead water pipes in just one year, well ahead of schedule, was unthinkable last fall. I hope the persistence of Benton Harbor residents will inspire other communities fighting to make their tap water safe,” said Reverend Edward Pinkney, president, Benton Harbor Community Water Council.
“Even as we celebrate this milestone in Benton Harbor, we can’t forget that the scourge of lead service lines remains in many communities in Michigan, including in Flint, where there are more than a thousand homes whose pipes haven’t been checked for lead and replaced if needed. We urge the local and state governments to bring all available resources to finish the job in Flint, where community activists sounded the alarm of lead contamination in drinking water more than seven years ago,” said Cyndi Roper, Senior Policy Advocate with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
“When called upon, Governor Whitmer’s team met the need: a robust government response to Benton Harbor’s lead contamination water crisis. Moving forward, we have to make sure we implement policies and systems to prevent this kind of crisis before it starts,” said Nick Leonard, executive director, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.
“Benton Harbor’s pivot from a 20-year lead service line replacement plan to completely replacing its lead service lines in one year is extraordinary. We’ve learned a lot in the process of replacing Benton Harbor’s lead pipes, including the importance of keeping a close eye on the work to ensure accountability, quality, and transparency,” said Elin Betanzo, founder of Safe Water Engineering.
Last October, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive launching a “all-hands-on-deck, whole-of-government approach” to ensuring safe drinking water for Benton Harbor, including a commitment to removing all the lead service lines in 18 months. In addition, Benton Harbor residents were provided free bottled water. The Governor’s directive came one month after a group of 20 Michigan and national organizations filed an emergency petition with the EPA in response to high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water for the last three years. Tests results found lead levels as high as nearly 60 times federal standards. The emergency petition sought to secure a free source of safe drinking water for Benton Harbor’s nearly 10,000 residents, among other requests, including full removal of 4,500 lead service lines delivering water to homes.
The best time to have pure clean fresh water is at all times
For allowing the residents of Benton Harbor to drink contaminated water for over four years without telling the community, The Benton Harbor Community Water Council blew the whistle on Governor Whitmer and Benton Harbor Mayor. Rev Pinkney & the Benton Harbor Community Water Council became whistleblowers when we exposed the Governor and the mayor of our community. The Governor and mayor retaliated and sent two white detectives to Rev Pinkney's home. Instantly causing him to feel threatened. We must stop them, you could be next.
Keep up the great work BHCWC Team!
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