EPA officials gather at the Benton Harbor Water Filtration Plant in November last year.

BENTON HARBOR — More than 98 percent of Benton Harbor’s water service lines have either been replaced or certified as lead free in the past year.

However, after all of the lead lines have been replaced, the city has work to do to satisfy state and federal requirements for the city’s water treatment plant.

One of the requirements issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 2, 2021, was that an analysis be conducted to showcase some alternatives for the long-term operation and maintenance of the city’s water system. The order required the analysis to consider the city maintaining ownership while making staff and administrative changes, consolidating the system and management with one or more neighboring systems, and the complete transfer of plant ownership to another entity.

City officials have made the 156-page report, called “City of Benton Harbor Water System Alternatives Analysis,” available to the public for comments and feedback on the various scenarios.

The analysis looked at seven alternatives, with 11 variations among the alternatives. According to the report, the alternatives were looking at ways to address the current plant’s $1.3 million annual operating deficit.

Among the seven alternatives, four were expected to increase costs while the cost for the other three couldn’t be calculated due to insufficient information.

The alternative that was calculated to increase the cost the least was if the city retained full ownership and all but two water system staff were contracted positions. That option would increase the cost to residential customers by $7.45 a month.

The most expensive option would be to buy water from Benton Township. That was calculated to cost $77.08 per month for each residential customer. The city’s water plant currently uses water from Lake Michigan.

One of the options was for the city to drill new wells to replace Lake Michigan water with groundwater to reduce the amount of chemicals needed and power costs.

The drilling of six wells and building a new treatment plant and transmission main was expected to cost $20 million and could be funded with a loan from the Michigan Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program. Another $17.3 million in other improvements could be funded with recently received federal American Rescue Plan Act money.

This option was calculated to cost every residential customer another $12.50 per month if the system was staffed by city employees and $8 per month if water staff was contracted except for two positions.

Among the other options, the monthly increase in costs to residential units were calculated to be:

  • $12.95: The city retains ownership and all water staff are city employees.
  • $13.05: The city keeps ownership and the lead operator positions are contracted out, with the rest of staff being city employees.
  • $40.14: Water is bought from St. Joseph and goes through existing storage reservoirs at the water treatment plant.
  • $42.17: Water is bought from St. Joseph, a portion goes through existing storage reservoirs and some goes directly into the distribution system.

Options that weren’t calculated were if the city entered into a formal agreement with St. Joseph and the Southwest Michigan Regional Sanitary Sewer and Water Authority, if the water system was owned and operated by a surrounding system or if the plant was owned by a private entity.

The 156-page study is available for comment through Dec. 1 and can be found on the city’s website, bhcity.us.

Printed copies can be found at:

  • Benton Harbor City Hall, 200 E Wall St.
  • Benton Harbor Library, 213 E. Wall St.
  • Boys & Girls Club Joel E. Smilow Teen Center, 190 W. Empire.
  • Berrien County Health Department, 2149 East Napier Ave.
  • Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 401 Eighth St.
  • Center for Better Health, 100 W Main St.
  • Benton Harbor High School, 870 Colfax Ave.
  • CAPE Center, 636 Pipestone St.
  • Discovery Enrichment Center, 465 S. McCord St.
  • Fair Plain East Elementary School, 1998 Union Ave.
  • Fair Plain Middle School, 120 E Napier Ave.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, 750 E Britain Ave.

Written comments or questions may be delivered to Benton Harbor City Hall, ATTN: City Clerk, 200 E. Wall St., Benton Harbor, MI 49022, or via email to tmoore@bhcity.us.

All public comments will be consolidated within seven days of the end of the public comment period and presented to the EPA, posted online at the Benton Harbor website, and printed and made available at the Benton Harbor library.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege

Staff Writer at The Herald-Palladium