IN THIS EPISODE:
As the U.S. prepares to pour billions of federal dollars into rescuing water systems, the Great Lakes News Collaborative investigates the true cost of water in the Great Lakes region and beyond. It’s an issue that’s been deferred for decades,and now factors like climate change, equity, aging systems, and water safety are all critical factors as officials and residents navigate the way forward.
WHERE WE TAKE YOU IN MAY
GREAT LAKES LEARNING:
Explore this month’s hands-on lesson plans designed to help your middle schoolers understand the Great Lakes — all at home or in the classroom. They’re aligned to education standards AND free to download.Lesson Plans
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When to Watch?
Check your local station for when Great Lakes Now is on in your area.
Premieres on DPTV
Wednesday, May 25, at 7:30 PM
STATIONS CARRYING THE SERIES
Bad Axe, Michigan
Bay County, Michigan
Bowling Green, Ohio
Buffalo, New York
East Lansing, Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Green Bay, Wisconsin
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Menomonie-Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
Park Falls, Wisconsin
South Bend, Indiana
Syracuse, New York
University Center, Michigan
Watertown, New York for Ontario signal
Watertown, New York for U.S. signal
SEGMENT 1 | Benton Harbor, MI; South Haven, MI
As part of the “Water’s True Cost” journalism project, Bridge Michigan journalist Kelly House investigates the underfunding of systems expected to deliver clean, safe drinking water.
The story begins in Benton Harbor, Mich., a city of about 9,000 people, near the mouth of the St. Joseph River. In October 2021, state officials advised Benton Harbor residents to drink only bottled water because the tap water contained high levels of lead.
While Benton Harbor is the latest city in Michigan to face a water crisis, it’s far from alone. In many ways the origins of Benton Harbor’s problems are shared among many communities on the brink of facing a similar challenge, which is dealing with the consequences of inadequate investment in water systems.
The root of these shared water crises is actually financial, and it’s impacting poor and affluent communities alike.
A short drive from Benton Harbor is South Haven, Mich. – a lakefront community and popular vacation spot. Although South Haven has a relatively new filtration plant, the pipes that carry water to the more than 11,000 people relying on the system are aging.
Reporter Kelly House explores why the aging infrastructure hasn’t been replaced and discovers it’s largely because of the unpopularity of price hikes. It’s a longstanding problem hinging on the difficulty in gaining buy-in from politicians and the public to raise rates on a system that is mostly invisible.
Here is other Great Lakes Now work on underinvestment in water infrastructure:
SEGMENT 2 | Oakland County, MI; Wayne County, MI
When you look around the Great Lakes, water is everywhere, and yet, it’s getting more expensive for many households in the region.
Brett Walton, a reporter for Circle of Blue, has done extensive reporting on water affordability, and notes that the cost of water is a relatively recent issue. According to a report from the University of Michigan published last year, between 1980 and 2018, average water prices across the state of Michigan nearly doubled, when adjusted for inflation. In some cities, the increase was even larger, and low-income households were hit the hardest.
Walton explains that aging infrastructure is a big part of the reason the cost of water is rising rapidly and many households in Michigan can’t keep up. Michigan households owe an estimated $252 million in unpaid water bills, according to the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association.
Even though the federal government stepped in to address health concerns during the pandemic and appropriated $1.1 billion for the “Low Income Households Water Assistance Program,” the $36.2 million that Michigan received was just a drop in the bucket considering the funding shortfall.
Jim Nash, Oakland County water resources commissioner, says even in Oakland County – one of the wealthiest counties in Michigan – many households struggle to pay their water bills. According to Nash, a long-term solution to the problem of water affordability is going to require more state and federal assistance.
Here is other Great Lakes Now work on water affordability:
The Catch: News about the Lakes You Love
SEGMENT 3 | Elk Lake, MI; Toronto, Ontario; Chicago, IL
Keep up with the Great Lakes’ biggest issues. Find out how environmental challenges are impacting your enjoyment of the outdoors and the health of the ecosystem. Go beyond the headlines with reporters from around the region.
This new segment – The Catch – in our award-winning PBS program will keep you in the know. This month, stories from our partners with the “Water’s True Cost” project.
Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham discusses a story he’s been following in northern Michigan on Elk Lake, where plant life and E.Coli are showing up in previously crystal-clear water. Faulty septic systems are the culprit, and Graham says that there are an estimated 300,000 faulty septic systems throughout the state.
Toronto-based journalist Andrew Reeves talks about a piece he wrote for Great Lakes Now about the history and current issues in Canadian water infrastructure. Similarly to the United States, Canada’s water system saw a substantial drop in funding in the decades after World War II. However, in 2000, when a drinking water tragedy hit the city of Walkerton, Ontario, officials took action and began to invest in infrastructure and safety. Now, as the population continues to grow in southern Ontario, the need for safe drinking water is increasing, and officials are gradually increasing rates to raise the funds.
In Chicago, journalist Laura Gersony is rolling out a new biweekly offering from Circle of Blue called Fresh: A Great Lakes Policy Briefing. “Part of what we’re hoping to do with Fresh is really demystify these complex stories to make them accessible both to policy experts and to average citizens,” says Gersony. Stories included in Fresh focus on everything from infrastructure challenges and water quality to environmental regulations and climate change. Fresh examines the policy that impacts the people and places of the Great Lakes region.
Here is other Great Lakes Now work on issues reported in this month’s “The Catch”:
Videos from Episode 2205
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How coal ash is threatening Lake Michigan, ideas for beneficial coal ash reuse and The Catch.
Saving salamanders, how Great Lakes ports fit into global shipping and The Catch.
Controlling invasive sea lamprey, hazards in our homes, and a Great Lakes news update.
The Great Lakes News Collaborative looks at the cost of water in the region and beyond.
A giant fungus in a tiny Great Lakes town, gangsters vacation “Up North,” and “The Catch.”
Sailing on ice, Lake Ontario winter surfing and three Lake Michigan news stories.
The science of shrinking ice coverage, Great Lakes ice fishing and skating on wild ice.
Lighthouse preservation, community renewal, and sturgeon teach Native American culture.
Plovers nest on a Chicago beach, suckers spawn in Wisconsin, and storms rage in Duluth.
Greener shipping in Indiana, the Benton Harbor lead crisis and water safety in Ontario.
Can two Great Lakes mayors with opposing views agree on how to protect the region’s water?
Building boats, cleaning up trash and uncovering amazing fossils around the Great Lakes.
Birds vs. buildings in Chicago, algae blooms on Lake Superior, and aquariums re-open.
Hundreds of shipwrecks have been mapped out but researchers believe more are out there.
Ichthyology is the scientific study of fish and fishery biologists are scientists who study fish. But not all fisheries biologists are ichthyologists. Here’s why.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration is trying again to limit the levels of a group of chemicals known as PFAS in Wisconsin’s groundwater.
Catch the latest in Great Lakes energy news in Great Lakes Now’s biweekly headline roundup.
The Great Lakes Now Series is produced by Rob Green and Sandra Svoboda.