CNS BUDGET – March 16, 2018

March 16, 2018 – Week 8

To: CNS Editors

From: Eric Freedman & Sheila Schimpf

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841;

For other matters, contact CNS Director Eric Freedman at (517) 355-4729 or (517) 256-3873;

Here’s your file:

DRINKINGWATER: When it comes to water, the contaminants you drink depend on where you live. Lead gets the most headlines but there are problems with arsenic, nitrate and volatile organic compounds. According to DEQ data, generally the further north you go, the safer your water is, although when it comes to nitrates, west is worse than east. The story names these counties, among others, on the naughty or nice lists: Mason, St. Joseph, Marquette, Montmorency, Mackinac, Manistee, Luce, Baraga, Keweenaw, Oceana, Alpena, Cass, Montcalm and Branch.  By Bailey Laske. FOR STURGIS, THREE RIVERS, MARQUETTE, MONTMORENCY, LUDINGTON, ST. IGNACE, MANISTEE, SAULT STE. MARIE, BAY MILLS, OCEANA AND ALL POINTS.


SEEDPOTATO: It may become mandatory for most potato seed growers to use only certified seed to prevent the spread of diseases that can threaten a valuable part of the state’s agricultural economy, under a bill awaiting the governor’s signature. We hear from the lead sponsor from Hudsonville, as well as a grower in Elmira, the Michigan Potato Industry Council and MSU. Major growing counties include Montcalm, Mecosta, Antrim, St. Joseph and Delta. There are co-sponsors from Cedar Lake, Berrien Springs, Sherman Township, Mancelona and Grand Rapids. For agriculture and news sections. By Crystal Chen. FOR HOLLAND, BIG RAPIDS, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, THREE RIVERS, STURGIS, GREENVILLE, MARQUETTE, MONTMORENCY, PETOSKEY, SAULT STE. MARIE AND ALL POINTS.

FARMERFEARS: Many farmers are worried about possible retaliatory trade tariffs for agricultural products that Michigan exports to China and elsewhere. We talk to soybean, milk and agri-business groups about the potential impacts. For agriculture and news sections. By Kaley Fech. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


LAUGHINGGAS: A proposal moving through the Legislature would set an 18-year-old age minimum to buy nitrous oxide — laughing gas — in Michigan. The goal is to make it more difficult for young people to get high. But even if the bill passes, young people could still get nitrous oxide legally. Sponsors include Calumet and Mattawan legislators. We talk to a substance abuse recovery expert from Brighton, the Michigan State Medical Society and the Department of Health and Human Services. By Bailey Laske. FOR SAULT STE. MARIE, BAY MILLS, HOLLAND, STURGIS, THREE RIVERS, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.


HOMELESSSTUDENTS: Homeless college students are often reluctant to seek assistance. Wayne State University has a program to help. Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College are partnering with an Ypsilanti nonprofit to provide mental health services. We also hear from the Michigan Community College Association. By Agnes Bao. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE, BIG RAPIDS, HOLLAND, GREENVILLE, MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE AND ALL POINTS.


ASSISTANCEFORMS: The Department of Health and Human Services has worked with a nonprofit Detroit design firm to slash the number of pages in the applications for social services benefits from 42 to 18 in an effort to simplify the process for the public and state staff. It was the longest application of its kind in the country. A plain English expert from Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School says other departments should follow suit. By Maxwell Evans. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.


GENDERPAYGAP: In what critics call another move to curb the power of local governments, some lawmakers want to prohibit communities from passing ordinances that block employers from asking job applicants about their past earnings. Proponents for equal pay for women object. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


TIPPINGFEES: The governor has proposed dramatically increase dumping fees — tipping fees — to raise money for recycling, among other environmental programs. Michigan lags nationally in its recycling rate, and more state grants could spur an improvement. We hear about the program in Emmet County, which has one of the state’s highest rates and also serves Cheboygan, Otsego and Presque Isle counties. DEQ and the Michigan Recycling Coalition tell us more. By Casey Hull. FOR PETOSKEY, CHEBOYGAN AND ALL POINTS.



Paying more for landfill might help recycling

Capital News Service

LANSING — A proposal to increase the cost of putting waste into landfills would produce an estimated $79 million annually for environmental initiatives.

The proposal was presented by Gov. Rick Snyder in late January and is pending in the House Environmental Committee.

Part of the proposal would allocate $15 million to support community recycling efforts. That would include $8 million for local recycling grants, $5 million for planning grants and $2 million for market development.

Michigan has one of the lowest recycling rates in the nation at 14 percent and throws away $368 million in reusable materials annually, according to a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) study. A recycling rate is the percentage of total waste that’s recycled rather than thrown away.

The DEQ now provides about $500,000 in grants to local recycling programs annually. Municipalities or other government agencies must match the state funding to be considered for the grant.

“Recycling grants can go to whatever makes the most sense for the community,” said Steve Sliver, the assistant director of the DEQ Waste Management Division.

“Good policy, planning dollars and grant funding are the keys to a good recycling program,” Elisa Seltzer, the director of the Emmet County Department of Public Works and Recycling, said.

Seltzer was hired to start the Emmet County recycling program in 1990. The program has received initial state aid for planning and infrastructure development, along with grants for expansion and education over the years.

“The upfront costs could mean hiring a consultant, staff person or paying committee members to work on how to increase recycling in a rural community such as ours,” Seltzer said. “We wanted recycling to be convenient, comprehensive and cost-effective.”

The county now has one of the highest recycling rates in the state at 42 percent, Seltzer said. There is currently no requirement for counties to report their recycling rates to the state, but the governor’s proposal would add that mandate.

Emmet County uses a combination of curbside pickup and community drop-off locations. The goal is that everyone has access to a recycling location within 6 miles of their home. A pay- as-you-throw policy that charges residents for dumping landfill but not recycling incentivizes making the trip, Seltzer said.

The county has a material recovery facility, which sorts and processes the recyclable materials to then be sold to manufacturers. The facility also receives material from Presque Isle, Cheboygan and Otsego counties.

“Sometimes we wind up covering the cost of the processing,” Seltzer said.

“Typically it is easier to be more cost-effective and efficient providing services in an urban environment because everything is more dense and you have more demographics with which to divide any upfront costs,” she said.

Communities attempting to expand or begin a recycling program have made more grant requests than the state has been able to fund during the past three years.

“In 2015, we had $635,000 in recycling grant funding available,” said DEQ recycling specialist Emily Freeman, “and received $3.9 million in grant requests.”

By focusing on smaller projects and working with communities to partially fund programs, the DEQ was able to help 25 entities in 2017, Freeman said. Despite those efforts, nine entities and a quarter of a million dollars in requests went unfunded.

The DEQ has has not been able to assess all grant applications for 2018, but estimates that there are $600,000 in requests.

A statewide recycling rate increase poses logistical questions for recycling programs.

Sliver said, “If Michigan actually doubled or tripled its current recycling rate, we do not have the capacity with our current material recovery facilities.

“There may be plenty of capacity in some parts of the state and none in others,” Sliver said. “Do you truck the material for a longer distance to a facility that has capacity, or does it make more sense to establish a new facility?”

Recycling in the state “employs 93,000 people, $5.7 billion in annual labor income, and creates $24.3 billion in economic input,” said Kerrin O’Brien, the executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.

State slashes clutter for public assistance applicants

Capital News Service

LANSING — The rollout of a new, simpler application form for public assistance has made the bureaucratic process much easier for Michigan residents, and is likely to save the state time — if not money — as well.

In January, the Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a remodeled application for government assistance, a project that had been in the works since September 2015.

With more than 1,000 questions and 18,000 words, the old forms were the longest application of their kind in the country, according to Civilla, a nonprofit Detroit design firm.

The department partnered with Civilla to modify the forms, which were slimmed down from 42 pages to 18.

The 24 pages, — and 14,505 words — that were cut included duplicate, poorly worded and irrelevant questions, Civilla co-founder Michael Brennan said.

In addition to the page reduction, the application became easier on the eye, receiving a pop of color and better spacing between lines of text, said Health and Human Services communications manager Bob Wheaton.

Brennan said Civilla did significant research to determine what design elements applicants would be most responsive to, and modeled their new forms in kind.

“Everything that’s on that form had been tested with residents — it’s really what shaped the form was feedback from residents and from workers inside the state,” Brennan said. “If it wasn’t working, we wouldn’t include it.”

It’s been only a couple of months since the new application’s statewide rollout, making it difficult to determine the full impact of the remodel, dubbed “Re:Form.”

But Health and Human Services benefitted from a pilot program, run in Eaton County and Hamtramck, starting in January 2017. That  provided an early indication that the forms would be well-received by both state employees and applicants, Wheaton said.

Clients in the pilot areas spent 25 fewer minutes on average completing the application, while department staff spent an average of 20 fewer minutes reviewing each application, according to Health and Human Services.

“We did have the experiences of our staff there and the clients there, and we got a lot of positive feedback,” Wheaton said. “That has continued as we’ve expanded it statewide, and we’re also able to make further tweaks and improvements as a result of the feedback.”

Civilla received $830,000 for its work, according to a Bridge Magazine report. And Wheaton said the department made the move to simplify forms with improved user experience, not cost savings, in mind.

Yet savings often go hand in hand with the adoption of clear wording on government forms, according to Joe Kimble, a professor emeritus at Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School.

Kimble, who is a co-founder of the Center for Plain Language, noted multiple instances in his book “Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please” of how shifts towards simpler communication led to increased response rates, cost savings and the need for fewer staff members at government agencies.

“Study after study after study shows that poor communication costs government — and the public — untold amounts of time and money lost,” Kimble said. “It’s almost incalculable. Poor communication is the great hidden cost of carrying on in government.”

The potential for lower governmental costs are seen as a positive, but Civilla’s Brennan said the applicants’ viewpoint is what guided his company’s efforts to remodel the application.

“Too often, we get focused on solving the problem through the eyes of the institution or the program or the money or the technology, and we get too far from really understanding the problem through the eyes of the user,” Brennan said. “We think most services provided by large institutions can be greatly enhanced if a greater effort is given to understand those needs.”

Wheaton said the focus on ease of use is starting to spread within state government, but didn’t provide examples from other departments. Health and Human Services is looking to incorporate some of the improvements into its online public assistance application as well, and he said the department will share its efforts with other departments.

Given the fact that the same essential information is now being conveyed with 80 percent fewer questions, Brennan said it’s a wonder that the previous forms got so cluttered.

“I don’t think there’s anyone that is waking up to go make it a difficult experience — we never witnessed that,” Brennan said. “But there is a lot of pressure on government to meet various federal and state regulations, and that gets accumulated over not only months, but years and decades.

“Like anything, sometimes it’s easier to add than to take out,” he said.

Kimble agreed that it was unlikely governments intentionally complicated public assistance forms to deter applicants in the hopes of saving money, calling any attempt to do so “unethical.”

He also praised Health and Human Services for prioritizing citizen needs.

“That’s to their great credit that they did that,” Kimble said. “I just wish there were more of it in all government agencies. Everybody wins with plain language.”

Some colleges tackle homeless students’ problems

Capital News Service

LANSING – Although homeless college students have access to various types of assistance, many are reluctant to be identified as homeless because of stigma, experts say.

“There is a sense of denial about what homelessness actually is,” said Lynn Stufin, a public information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Stable housing is a stressor for many individuals,” Stufin said. “The identification that the individual is homeless may (bring) stress they are unable or unwilling to handle at that time.”

Pam Kies-Lowe, the coordinator for homeless education at the Department of Education, said,

“Lots of folks think about the homeless as bad people in the park, or they think the homeless are on the corner of an intersection with signs saying ‘homeless and hungry.’”  

However, an invisible group of homeless consists of students, Kies-Lowe said. They don’t live on the street and some of the older ones who are unaccompanied by parents stay with their friends or relatives.

The definition of homeless children and youth isn’t limited to those sleeping on the streets, but also includes lacking a regular nighttime residence, sharing housing or sleeping in places that aren’t supposed to be a regular accommodations, according to federal law.

More awareness and better identification of homeless students are needed, Kies-Lowe said.

“The whole experience of being homeless hurts their mental health a lot more than being identified, because once they are identified we connect them with the services and support they need to stay and succeed in school,” she said.

Those services typically include financial aid, housing, food and transportation.

Wayne State University launched the HIGH (Helping Individuals Go Higher) program for homeless students in 2013.

The program aims at helping homeless, precariously housed and financially challenged students to earn their degree and prevent them from dropping out because of financial problems.

“Sixty-one percent of the applicants are seniors, and so we do what we can to provide a bridge so that they graduate,” said Pearlanne Pollard, the program’s executive assistant.

“At the point, we have a 100 percent graduation rate of our seniors that come in [to the program],” Pollard said. But still, many homeless students haven’t been identified yet.

As homeless students don’t necessarily sleep on the street, “we don’t have any way of identifying them,” she said. “If they don’t apply for [the program], then we don’t know who they are.”

The HIGH program put in great efforts on reaching out to potentially homeless students through social media, flyers, deans, advisers, financial aid staff and a welcome center.

Michael Hansen, the president of the Michigan Community College Association, said the challenges facing homeless students are a growing concern.

“The colleges in the state are not really set up to deal with homeless students,” Hansen said. Connecting them with local agencies and organizations is better.

Colleges are educational institutions and aren’t experts on homelessness, he said. “But we are doing what we can to connect homeless students to appropriate services and service providers.”

Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College collaborate with the MORE Support program provided by Ozone House, which is a nonprofit agency based in Ypsilanti with the goal of helping young homeless people.

The MORE Support program partners with campus “coaches” to provide health care for homeless students.

Many problems cause homeless students to suffer trauma, including abuse, the disruption of care and changes in housing, said Dave Zellmer, the program’s therapist.

Partnering with colleges reduces the barrier for students who need care, Zellmer said. “The stigma around homelessness can make it hard for students to talk about that, and they might not want other people to know.”

The program isn’t about labeling homeless people but it’s about providing support for students and making sure they get what they need to succeed in school, he said.  

With the program’s mental health care, 80 percent of  participants showed reductions in traumatic stress and 75 percent demonstrated reductions in symptoms related to depression and anxiety, according to Ozone House.

They also had higher class attendance rates and higher academic achievement, the agency said.


Proposal seeks to curb laughing gas abuse

Capital News Service

LANSING – A bill awaiting Senate action would make it harder for people under 18 to misuse potentially dangerous nitrous oxide — better known as laughing gas.

Commonly known as “whip-its” — small metal containers made to refill canisters in restaurants and bakeries — they give people who inhale the nitrous oxide a short-lived euphoric high, said Scott Masi an outreach and referral specialist at Brighton Center for Recovery in Brighton and the founder of the nonprofit Unite to Face Addiction.

According to Masi, whip-its can be sold at liquor stores and gas stations, available to anybody who walks in the door.

Although people of all ages can get high with nitrous oxide, it’s popular among youth because they often have a hard time getting alcohol and other drugs, said Brad Uren, a co-chair of the committee on state legislation and regulations at the Michigan State Medical Society in East Lansing.

Masi said that because of its easy accessibility, whip-its are viewed as far less harmful than they actually are.

For example, Masi went through a period of his life when he struggled with drug addiction. During that time, he did whip-its, and he said there’s not enough public understanding of their dangers.

According to Masi, the high is very short-lived so many people do a lot of inhalations in a short period of time.

According to Eden Wells, the chief medical executive at the Department of Health and Human Services, there are a myriad of negative effects.

Upon inhalation, brain cells are damaged. When the nitrous oxide is released it gets extremely cold and can result in frostbite, Wells said.

The use of whip-its has been linked to anemia, convulsions and death, she said.

And according to Wells, nitrous oxide is addictive and should be treated as such.

The bill wouldn’t eliminate other ways youth get access to nitrous oxide. According to Masi, even cans of whipped cream at the grocery store contain nitrous oxide that can be used to get high.

Sponsors of the proposal include Reps. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, and Beth Griffin, R-Mattawan.

The bill covers only containers that contain only nitrous oxide. That would leave many other ways in which people can get high in the same way.

Even so Uren, Masi and Wells all said the bill would be  a step in the right direction.

Uren said it’s important that those products are no longer sold in places where they’re obviously not going to used correctly.

“When bakery owners need to buy more supplies for their business, they aren’t going to go to a liquor store,” he said.

Uren said education is another big part of reducing the improper use of  nitrous oxide.

The bill has passed the House and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Gender pay gap under the spotlight

Capital News Service

LANSING — With national Equal Pay Day coming on April 10, gender equity proponents in the Legislature are working to get Gov. Rick Snyder to veto a bill that would prevent municipalities from deciding whether local employers can request a job candidate’s wage history.

The bill, which passed the House and Senate, is sponsored by Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, would expand a current ban on local government regulation of information from job applicants.

Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, who voted against the bill, said there hasn’t been significant action taken on equal pay since the federal Equal Pay Act was signed into law 55 years ago with the purpose of abolishing wage disparity based on gender,  

Lasinski said there are two aspects of the bill she opposes: restricting the ability of communities to innovate and trying to preempt local action that may help close the gap.

The National Partnership for Women and Families’ latest report shows that in Michigan, women on average are paid 74 cents for every dollar paid to men. The group, based in Washington, D.C., said that women in Michigan lose nearly $23 billion a year due to the pay gap.

The gap is even more pronounced in ethnic groups such as black and Latina women, the report said.

“One of the things that perpetuates the pay gap is folks consistently being paid based on the salary history of their previous job versus the pay for the skills required to do the current job,” Lasinski said.

Gender pay proponents are writing letters to Snyder, urging a veto, Lasinski said.

The move to limit local governments from passing wage history ordinances comes as part of an accelerating trend from the Legislature to reduce local government autonomy.

“There has been a tightening from the state level on the ability of local governments to do what’s best for the local community,” Lasinski said.  “We have had several bills over this session that restrict local government from innovating in their own communities and from ensuring that, as local elected officials, they’re doing what’s right and best by their communities.”

For equal pay supporters and advocacy groups, Lasinski says the effort to achieve pay equity is taking place on many levels.

The Progressive Women’s Caucus in the Legislature supports a 14-bill package with items that its members say are needed to close the gap. One bill in that package would establish an award program for employers that achieve progress in equalizing pay for men and women.

The package will be highlighted on April 10 at the Equal Pay Legislative Day rally at the Capitol.

“It’s not until April 10 that women and men in Michigan receive equal pay. So essentially women have been working for free up until April 10,” Lasinski said.

Farmers eye tariff as potential trouble

Capital News Service

LANSING – Many Michigan farmers are worried about a potential backlash as a result of higher federal tariffs and new international trade policies.

“The big concern in agriculture right now is that by leveling steel and aluminum import tariffs against some of our key trading partners, like China, it could levy a retaliatory tariff, and often retaliation targets agriculture,” said Chuck Lippstreu, a publicist for the Agricultural Leaders of Michigan.

That could to lead to unintended consequences and a retaliation against Michigan agriculture and U.S. agriculture that would hurt farmers, he said.

One of the biggest concerns is the effect a backlash from the tariffs could have on soybeans.

“Michigan produces over 100 million bushels of soybeans annually, or three million tons,” said David Williams, the president of the Michigan Soybean Promotion Association based in Frankenmuth. “Michigan exports over 60 percent of its soybeans.”

China is one of the country’s top customers for soybeans, Williams said. U.S. exports to China are worth around $14 billion a year.

China is also one of the major targets for the new steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump.

“If these tariffs cut our market access, that could really hurt the U.S. economy,” Williams said.

The price farmers get for agricultural commodities is lower than in the past, and retaliatory tariffs on commodities would only increase their problems, he said.

Soybeans are a versatile crop, Williams said. The main product is soybean meal, which is used as feed for animals. The oil is also extracted and used in carpet backing, the foam in car seats, plastics and a multitude of other products.

Milk is another commodity that could feel a backlash because of retaliatory tariffs.

“Dairy has become part of the global economy,” said Ken Nobis, the president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association. “And agricultural products are usually the No. 1 target of trade disputes.”

The Novi-based group has plants in Constantine, Ovid, Mt. Pleasant and Middlebury, Indiana.

Michigan produces 11 billion pounds of milk each year, and while most of that milk is sold in the United States, Michigan dairy farmers could still be adversely affected by retaliatory tariffs.

“Exports for the country as a whole are about 15 percent of milk produced,” Nobis said. “Retaliatory tariffs would affect the prices of milk for all U.S. farmers because they would make the U.S. less competitive in the global market.”

Plenty of dairy is produced globally, Nobis said, so other countries can simply go elsewhere to get their milk.

“Tariffs can really knock things out of whack,” he said.

Meaure seeks to prevent potato diseases

Capital News Service

LANSING – Farmers with more than an acre of seed potatoes would face new requirements under a bill passed by the Senate and House: to plant only certified seed potatoes.

The intent is to reduce the possible spread of diseases that could have a major economic impact on the state’s agricultural industry, supporters say.

Michigan ranks ninth among the states in potato production with 47,000 acres planted, according to the Michigan Potato Industry Commission. The crop contributes $178 million annually to the state’s economy.

Montcalm, Mecosta, Antrim, St. Joseph and Delta counties are among the top producers in the state, said Mike Wenkel, the executive director of the commission.

In Michigan, 70 percent go into potato chips. Michigan potatoes fill one of every four bags of chips in the country, according to the National Potato Council.

Rep. Roger Victory, R- Hudsonville, the main sponsor of the bill, said Michigan is one of the only potato-producing states that doesn’t currently have a certified potato seed law.

“It is crucial that we take proactive steps to safeguard the industry’s continued success,” Victory said. “This legislation is very similar to regulations found in other potato-producing states.”

The bill is the result of many years of work and collaboration with the industry advocacy group Potato Growers of Michigan and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, he said.

Among the co-sponsors are Reps. Jim Lower, R-Cedar Lake; Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs; Aaron Miller, R-Sherman Township; Triston Cole, R-Mancelona; and David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids.

Chris Long, a potato specialist at Michigan State University, said that virus accumulation in potato seed is detrimental to healthy crop production, and other bacterial and fungal pathogens including late blight are also of great concern.

“The bill is a good thing,” Long said. “The certified seed law would better regulate seed that is at a higher risk to the potato industry and prevent it from ever being planted.”

Wenkel said, “Michigan potato growers are also working to manage disease, insects and other pests that can damage the crop. This includes many possible impacts on the seed during the growing season and the storage of the crop.”

Wenkel said potato seed is different from most types of seed used in producing food because it’s  a piece of potato that will grow into a new plant when placed in the ground. “Since they are living tissue, they can easily harbor disease and pests from one year to the next.”

“Through seed certification, many of the diseases are monitored during seed production and provided to the buyers to assist them in managing these diseases,” he said. “Our goal in supporting this legislation is to protect our industry and our reputation for growing quality potatoes from being impacted by diseases.”

The percentage of potatoes planted now using certified seed is unknown. “Today growers can use anything as seed,” Wenkel said, “although it is believed that most seed planted is certified.”

The bill would require potato growers to plant certified potatoes and allow exemptions only  under special conditions.

It also would allow a grower to secure an annual exemption if certified seed isn’t available. “The annual exemption is a critical component of the bill to ensure that no grower would be impacted in growing a crop for a season,” Wenkel said.

Victory said that the bill also provides a special  exemption for small potatoes and for individuals who plant and distribute less than an acre of seed potatoes, such as hobby farms.

John Marker, the owner and operator of Marker Farms in Elmira grows seed potatoes.

The legislation wouldn’t have a negative impact on his farm, he said. “All the seeds my farm uses are certified.”

“The bill is more directed towards the commercial growers in the state,” Marker said. “When they are replanting potatoes, they do not go through an inspection process” and could be replanting diseased potatoes.

Marker said the proposal, if signed, would reduce the risks to the industry and to other growers who are trying to do things correctly by planting clean seed.

The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.


Drink up? Depends on where you live

Capital News Service

LANSING – If you’re thinking of moving in Michigan and worry about water quality, finding the perfect area might be harder than you think.

Because of  a wide variety of contaminants, pinpointing one area that has the cleanest drinking water or the worst drinking water isn’t an easy task.  

“It’s hard to say where the most issues are. There are different issues in different communities around the state,” said Sean McBrearty, a program organizer at Clean Water Action, an advocacy group..

Lead receives the most headlines but Michigan’s main drinking water contaminants include arsenic, nitrate, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and lead.

Some areas are affected worse than others, but overall, Lansing has no worries about lead and Northern Michigan enjoys fairly clean water, according to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

One of the biggest problems facing almost the entire state is the crumbling infrastructure, McBrearty said. “Michigan has more lead service lines than almost any other state.”

With around 460,000 lead service lines, many local governments are scrambling to find the money to replace them.

According to McBrearty, the only area where all lead pipes have been removed is Lansing. The Lansing Board of Water and Light finished replacing all of them in 2016.

Lansing and  Madison, Wisconsin, are the only two cities in the country to replace all of their lead service lines, according the the Board of Water and Light.

Because of the makeup of Michigan’s landscape, the state tends to have naturally higher arsenic levels in the groundwater. Arsenic is found in some bedrock, sand, gravel and soil when it’s dissolved by and absorbed into drinking water.

Some areas with the highest rate of arsenic contamination are Bad Axe, Lapeer  and southeast Genesee County. The cleanest counties include Mason, Manistee, Alpena and Mackinac.

Unlike arsenic, problems with VOCs are generally caused by human activity such as the release of industrial solvents, fuel and chemical spills, and illegal disposal of waste products. VOC levels are also much lower in the northern parts of the state than in southern Michigan, according to the DEQ.

Areas with the most VOC problems include Jackson, Battle Creek, Portage and Muskegon. DEQ data shows counties with the least problems include Montmorency, Luce, Baraga, Iron and Keweenaw.

In contrast, nitrate levels have a pattern that follows east and west, not just north and south. High levels tend to be found in West Michigan, focused on the southern and middle parts of the Lower Peninsula.

These contaminants come from livestock waste, septic tanks and drainfields, crop and lawn fertilizers, municipal wastewater sludge and natural sources, according to the DEQ.

The counties with the most serious nitrate problems include Cass, St. Joseph, Branch, Montcalm and Oceana. The east side of the state, particularly the Thumb, and the Upper Peninsula have lesser rates of nitrate contamination.

Another major factor whether the water is being pulled from the Great Lakes or from groundwater sources. Because the Great Lakes are so large, understanding the quality of the water is much easier and results in fewer  problems, according to James Clift, the policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council.

With groundwater, people need to be more wary of possible contaminants and localized threats, Clift said.

The Great Lakes Water Authority in Southeast Michigan gets most of its water from Lake Huron or the Detroit River. However, the region it serves has the most lead service lines in the state to deal with, Clift said.

Those who get their water from private wells need to be far more wary than those on municipal water, according to Clift, so it’s important to test well water not only when moving but also every two to three years.

County health departments can test for most common contaminants. For the consumer, strange smell and taste are indicators that something is wrong, Clift said.

McBrearty of Clean Water Action said some contaminants that are far harder to examine include perfluorooctane sulfonate, a VOC that’s been discovered in about 15 areas in Michigan.

“The science is not complete on how dangerous it is for human health,” McBrearty said. Only a handful of labs in the country can test for it, but the expensive testing is typically funded by the organization or company that caused the damage.

According to Clift, Michigan is working toward having its own means of testing for such contaminants.

CNS Budget – March 1, 2018

March 1, 2018 – Week 7

To: CNS Editors

From: Eric Freedman & Sheila Schimpf

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841;

For other matters, contact CNS Director Eric Freedman at (517) 355-4729 or (517) 256-3873;

REMINDER TO EDITORS: Because of the MSU spring break, CNS won’t file stories on Friday, March 9. We resume our regular schedule on Friday, March 16,

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PRISONCLOSING: What happens to a small community when the state closes a prison that’s been a major employer? With the Corrections Department planning to shut the cell doors at Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon, we visit Coldwater to see what’s happened since Florence Crane Correctional Facility closed in 2011. Not much going on downtown. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, HOLLAND, OCEANA, STURGIS, THREE RIVERS AND ALL POINTS.

w/PRISONSCLOSINGPHOTO1: The closing of a local prison has hit downtown Coldwater hard. Credit: Gloria Nzeka

w/PRISONCLOSINGPHOTO2: Retailers get hit when an area prison closes. Credit: Gloria Nzeka

TRAFFICSTOP: New legislation is intended to smooth interactions between law enforcement officers and drivers during traffic stops. Amid concerns over racial profiling, it comes after a State Police analysis shows that the race of drivers stopped in 2017 was in the same proportion as they are in the state’s population. We talk to the Crawford County undersheriff, Howell police chief, Lansing ACLU and the Office of Highway Safety Planning. Sponsors include lawmakers from Battle Creek, Hart, Portage and Lowell. By Agnes Bao. CRAWFORD COUNTY, OCEANA, IONIA, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

w/TRAFFICSTOPTABLE: The races of drivers stopped by State Police in 2017 in Michigan. Source: State Police  

TEACHEREDUCATION: Lawmakers have been struggling for years to improve teacher education. A House committee is mulling over legislation that would, among other things, create a Master Teacher Program to mentor new teachers and require colleges and universities to provide a 2-year “warranty” that provides additional classes for their graduates who don’t perform well on teaching assessments. We hear from Holland and Saginaw representatives and a Spring Arbor teacher who testified before the committee. By Casey Hull. FOR HOLLAND AND ALL POINTS.

AIREMISSIONS: A federal court ruling means many livestock farms will no longer be exempt from reporting air emissions from their animals and manure. An Ottawa County beef farmer says the change means more paperwork that could drive up the price of food. The Farm Bureau says the reporting wouldn’t provide any benefits. The Michigan Environmental Council says it’s important to monitor emissions for air quality. For news and agriculture pages. By Crystal Chen.


TRAINTRESPASSING: Dramatic crashes between cars and trains draw public attention but take fewer lives than train-”trespasser”incidents, a new federal study shows. Last year 13 died and six were injured in Michigan. Many of the trespassers walked along the tracks wearing earbuds and don’t detect the danger. We talk to MDOT and Michigan Operation Lifesaver. By Riley Murdock. FOR STURGIS, THREE RIVERS AND ALL POINTS.


POLICERECRUITMENT: Police departments around the state are having problems recruiting officers. Reasons include a diminution of benefits, including retirement benefits, the cost of training and public attitudes toward law enforcement officers. We hear from police officials in Cadillac and Howell and from the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. By Riley Murdock. FOR CADILLAC & ALL POINTS.

ROADFUNDING: The Legislature has been moving on the $175 million in road maintenance funding requested by the governor. Much of the money would go to county and municipal roads. Cadillac could use some of it to upgrade major roads. Meanwhile, a construction industry trade group that represents road and bridge contractors says Isabella County wants to improperly use state money for a new headquarters rather than for road projects. By Maxwell Evans. FOR CADILLAC, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.

TRACKSMAGAZINE: “Tracks,” the Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ magazine for children, is marking its 40th anniversary this year. By Jacqueline Kelly. FOR ALL POINTS.

w/TRACKSMAGAZINECOVER: Credit: Michigan United Conservation Clubs

RIVERTRAILS: The National Park Service is considering requests to designate national river trails for the recently reviled Flint River and the Shiawassee River. One goal is to attract more visitors to the rivers and their communities. By Lizzy LaFavre. FOR ALL POINTS.

w/RIVERTRAILSPHOTO: Kayaking on the Shiawassee River.. Credit: Oakland County