The Northeast-Midwest Institute has launched the Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program in response to the safe drinking water issues facing the northeast and midwest regions. With start-up funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation received in November 2016, the new program is addressing drinking water issues common in aging cities. The work of the Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program started in response to the Flint Water Crisis, and continued after the City of Detroit, Michigan asked NEMWI to develop a program to proactively minimize lead in drinking water in early 2016. The new program builds on the Institute’s long-standing engagement in water quality research, policy analysis, and education and outreach relating to water quality and safe drinking water by expanding its capabilities the northeast and midwest regions more broadly.
Directing the new Safe Drinking Water Program is Elin Betanzo, Senior Policy Analyst at the Northeast-Midwest Institute. She is also the technical expert for the Toward Sustainable Water Information project, which focuses on the availability of water quantity and water quality monitoring data in the region. Ms. Betanzo received her Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from Virginia Tech, as well as a Water Quality Management Certificate. On the Institute staff for five years, Ms. Betanzo is a leader in the effort to address drinking water problems in the region. She has also played a key role in bringing visibility to the Flint water crisis in the fall of 2015.
The Safe Drinking Water Program has also been engaged by the Detroit Water Sewerage Department to design a program to minimize lead in drinking water in Detroit, Michigan. NEMWI is providing technical assistance and guidance for sampling lead in drinking water across the city and developing short- and long-term strategies to minimize exposure to lead through drinking water. The program includes development of proactive strategies to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water, such as improving public notice and public education regarding lead in drinking water, updating and maintaining service line records, and designing a lead service line replacement program.
In announcing the Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program, the Northeast-Midwest Institute Board of Directors stated “The effort to ensure safe drinking water for every community is a fundamental priority and a public health necessity. The new Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program is the Northeast-Midwest Institute’s response to both the current water emergency in Flint and to the emerging and potential problems regionally and nationally as the priority of safe drinking water is given long-overdue examination and visibility in the years ahead.”
With the Institute’s established bipartisan relationship with policy-makers on Capitol Hill and region-wide, the new Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program will inform the ongoing regional legislative work to ensure safe drinking water, in addition to advising the ongoing EPA revision of the Lead and Copper Rule. The Institute’s new program also will serve as a resource providing critical information on safe drinking water more broadly to cities, NGOs, researchers, and policy-makers at the state and local levels, as well as consumers and citizens.