Now is it a water emergency?

hands washed by dripping water

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Washing hands requires water

Last week, Governor Gretchen Whitmer declined to declare an emergency around Detroit’s water shutoffs, which affected 23,500 customers last year, citing “insufficient data” proving the shutoffs posed a public health risk. Whitmer’s position was backed up by the Detroit Health Department but triggered criticism from the likes of Flint water crisis heroine Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.

One week later, Bridge Magazine draws our attention to the fact that handwashing has been recommended as the number one precaution for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. And, of course, it’s hard to wash your hands if you don’t have running water.

That’s why the People’s Water Board renewed its call this week asking Whitmer to declare the emergency and enact a temporary moratorium, noting in a press release that “Michigan residents have particular reason to fear the spread of coronavirus because the ongoing deprivation of tens of thousands of people from basic access to water and sanitation puts everyone at risk.”

Planet Detroit reached out to the Governor’s office Thursday to see if their position had changed. A spokesperson told us, “At this time, we’re reviewing”.

EGLE approves FCA air quality plan

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) have approved Fiat Chrysler’s (FCA) air quality plan for its expanded facility on the eastside of Detroit, a month after denying the previous plan. The new plan includes funds for homeowners and schools to make improvements including installing air-filtration systems. A spokesperson for EGLE says that FCA has also committed to installing vegetative buffers around the plant, an air monitoring network, and a call-in number for traffic complaints.

The Detroit News reports that “Fiat Chrysler has said the “landfill-free” facility will represent a 10% reduction in emissions in the region”. But it’s been pointed out that these reductions are regional, with Detroit seeing increases while pollution is reduced in Warren. An opinion piece by eastside resident Sanaa Green in The Detroit Free Press questioned the “rushed community benefits process” that accompanied the FCA deal:

FCA is reducing emissions at its Warren facility to offset the increase at the Detroit facilities. The end result? They’re cutting pollution in a white community – so they can increase it in a black community.

Another flat tire for regional transit

Yet again, a plan for regional transit in Southeast Michigan has stalled. The plan, which would have allowed for local municipalities to partner on services and raise taxes, was expected to go before voters this year. But instead, it has been blocked in the Michigan Legislature.

House Republicans, including Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) said residents of northern Oakland County were likely to see tax increases without an increase in services.

“It’s a complete lack of vision,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said, “and our region and state suffer because of it.” Oakland County Executive David Coulter has expressed support for regional transit, but Metro Detroit will likely have to wait another election cycle to see any progress (or not) on the issue.

Ann Arbor detects more dioxane in drinking water

Dioxane has been detected in Ann Arbor’s drinking water for the second time in the past year. The compound is a “likely human carcinogen” that was used by Gelman Sciences to manufacture air and water filters.

The levels detected in Ann Arbor’s water are ten times below the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime risk level. However, the spreading pollution threatens Barton Pond, Ann Arbor’s main drinking water source. So far, the Ann Arbor City Council has postponed voting on a federal Superfund designation for the dioxane plume that could be used to fund a cleanup.


Lake Erie Bill of Rights fails in court

Judge Zachary Zouhary stuck down a groundbreaking law passed by Toledo residents to establish a Bill of Rights for Lake Erie. Zouhary said the law is “unconstitutionally vague and exceeds the power of municipal government in Ohio.” Stemming from the toxic algae bloom that shut down the city’s drinking water supply in 2014, the law would have allowed Toledo residents to sue on behalf of the lake when it was being polluted. The law was similar to efforts in Colombia and New Zealand to define rights for rivers and forests. It’s unclear if Toledo will appeal the decision.

Things aren’t looking good for Michigan’s birds

Black terns migrate around the globe, traveling from South and Central America to our very own Great Lakes. But these peripatetic shorebirds aren’t doing so well, John Hartig reports in Great Lakes Now. Their numbers in Michigan have declined by 70% since 1966, possibly on account of storms and higher water levels that have wiped out their nesting areas. Moreover, the terns are part of a long list of birds—many of whom spend time in Michigan—threatened by climate change.


Join the Detroit Energy Challenge

WDET’s Anna Sysling spoke this week with Joel Howrani Heeres, Director of the Office of Sustainability for the City of Detroit, about the office’s new energy challenge. The challenge, launched in partnership with Detroit 2030 District and Michigan Battle of the Buildings, will recognize buildings that reducing their energy footprint. All Detroit buildings are welcome to join the challenge (except for single-family residences).

Check out our local environmental jobs & volunteer opportunities & events >>>

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