In the early 1990s, the Lansing Board of Water and Light (LBWL) pumped approximately 23 million gallons per day (gpd) for its customers, not quite half of its 50 million gpd capacity. The loss of large industries, a small population decline (7,000 people over 10 years), and more efficient plumbing technology had lowered the community’s water use. Worried about rising rates, LBWL used funding from the Tri-county Regional Planning Commission to convene a task force to explore options for generating new customers by providing water on a regional scale.
During this same period, West Side Water (WSW), a small utility that serves 2,000 customers in the western area of Lansing Charter Township, found itself in violation of the new Safe Drinking Water Act and needed to act quickly or pay fines. WSW pumped and distributed approximately 450,000 gpd from its single water pumping station, with about 150,000 gpd being sent to two large General Motors plants. Like LBWL, WSW drew drinking water from the Saginaw Aquifer, which had particularly hard water, but unlike LBWL, it did not have the technology and capacity to soften its water. As a result, WSW had heavy metals above regulation in the finished drinking water it supplied, putting it in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s Lead and Copper rule.