Rally for ‘clean, affordable water’ scheduled for next week’s Three Rivers city commission meeting

(City of Three Rivers Wastewater Treatment Plant)

A rally, organized by local group With Many Hands, is expected to take place at next week’s Three Rivers city commission meeting on Tuesday, November 21.

The Three Rivers Clean Water Campaign is seeking relief from recent rate increases of city water and sewer bills, as well as action that addresses the city’s drinking water itself, which exceeds the federal limit for lead contamination. The group will also be seeking water filters for every Three Rivers resident that may not already have one or doesn’t have the means to acquire one of their own.

“We all have a basic human right to access clean, safe water,” Three Rivers resident Casey Tobias said. “I work with poor and (unhoused) people every day. Where can they get filtered water? They can’t afford bottled water. What are they supposed to do?”

DETAILS: Three Rivers lead levels

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) evaluates compliance with an action level based on the 90th percentile of lead and copper results collected in each round of sampling. 

The lead 90th percentile for Three Rivers’ water supply is 19 ppb, which exceeds the action level of 15 ppb. The “action level” is a measure of corrosion control effectiveness; it is not a health-based standard. The goal for lead in drinking water is 0 ppb, and there is no safe level of lead in the blood. Lead can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells, and is especially dangerous for children, infants and fetuses.

According to a press release issued by the campaign, the group will be pushing for a rollback of water and sewer fees approved by the Three Rivers city commission, which were adopted, in part, to address the city’s lead lines, as well as fund ongoing water treatment, and future local infrastructure projects.

Following the Flint water crisis, Michigan cities were required to replace all lead pipes in their water systems over a 20-year period, and at the time local municipalities were largely expected to foot the bill with no help from the state, the burden of which largely fell on the shoulders of citizens.

In 2021, in an interview with Watershed Voice, Mayor Tom Lowry said the city estimated Three Rivers has approximately 1,000 unidentified lead service lines, with the city expected to remove 50 lines annually over 20 years with each line removal costing about $10,000 for a grand total of $500,000 every year until 2040. 

In the same interview, Lowry expressed frustration with the state legislature who he blames for the predicament Three Rivers finds itself in. “So if you (remove 50 lines a year), that’s $10 million that we have to get out of the citizens because the low tax people at the state (level) are now taxing ourselves to pay for what needs to be done. Forget party name for a second, it is the people who don’t want to pay taxes, and they know when they get to Lansing that this is just an unfair cost. The state government exists in part to do what the local governments can’t, and this qualifies.”

Lowry added, “$10 million out of this community through additional water bills is insane.” He said he wants the citizens of Three Rivers to “help us scream at Lansing that this is a truly unfair and insanely costly unfunded mandate.”

The Three Rivers city commission will next meet on Tuesday, November 21 at 6 p.m. at Three Rivers City Hall (333 W. Michigan Ave.).

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor and publisher of Watershed Voice.