BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — Two months and 200,000 cases of water later, the drinking water in Benton Harbor is still unsafe.
City leaders declared a local state of emergency on Oct. 19 in response to the high levels of lead contamination in the water.
Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad sat down with News 8 Tuesday to discuss the problem and the progress.
“A lot has happened in a short amount of time and that’s why I’m pleased,” Muhammad said.
The mayor praised Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for making it possible, providing the money and resources for a long-term solution.
The state has been providing free bottled water for the city’s residents for weeks and is aiming to replace every lead water pipe in 18 months.
Muhammad, who was given more authority to lead the response in October, said the problem was inherited and city officials are not to blame.
“This is aging, old infrastructure. Lead pipes that have been in the ground longer than you and I have been on this earth,” Muhammad said.
The mayor expressed frustration over those accusing him of not acting sooner.
“We were alerted to the problem in 2018 and people are saying, ‘what took you so long, why didn’t you act earlier, what did you do wrong?'” he said. “A problem that has existed for 50, 60 years can’t be completed in a year or two. It takes time, the wheels of government don’t turn as fast as some would like.”
Muhammad testified before a state House committee hearing in October, saying he’s been attempting to alert state authorities about the urgency of the issue since 2019.
“Now, I’m at the other side of it to where finally we can make decisions,” Muhammad told News 8. “We have the resources; we have the money and that’s why I’m excited that now I can finally fix the problem that has been here years before.”
The state launched a new online dashboard showing the progress of the lead service line replacements. As of Tuesday, 387 were reported as completed, with 3,934 more to go.
Despite this progress, a few critics are calling for the mayor’s job over his handling of the water crisis. He’s also been named in a lawsuit, alleging negligence from state and local officials.
“I’m confident that the residents of Benton Harbor want me in office as their mayor to solve this problem,” he said. “The recall petition, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
As for what’s next with addressing the water crisis, the mayor anticipates this momentum to carry over to the new year.
“In 2022, Benton Harbor can look forward to seeing a lot of dirt flying, seeing filters passed out, seeing lead levels going down,” Muhammad said.