Reverend Edward Pinkney, a devout community leader, civil rights activist, pastor, and long-time frontline partner of Freshwater Future, was invited to speak at a United Nations forum on April 26th. His talk focused on advocating for water justice, sharing personal stories of overcoming adversity in the courts and highlighting the parallels between his civil rights battles and the fight for clean, affordable water in his hometown of Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Reverend Pinkney shared how the Benton Harbor Community Water Council (BHCWC) was formed during his presentation by recounting the story of Emma Kinard, an important member of the(BHCWC). While running a bath for her child, Emma’s daughter was alarmed by severe discoloration of the tap water. Emma shared this concern with Reverend, resulting in the formation of the BHCWC and the investigation into lead in the drinking water. This incident served as a critical moment that brought attention to the issue of lead contamination in the community. “If not for that conversation with her daughter, we would not be talking about this issue today,” Reverend stated.
With assistance from Freshwater Future, tests confirmed elevated lead levels in the drinking water. In response, Reverend Pinkney and other community members took action, raising awareness and urging local and state governments and agencies to address the water problem and provide aid to residents.
After years of no improvement and inadequate enforcement at the State level, the Benton Harbor Community Water Council (BHCWC) collaborated with several organizations to take action. In 2021, they petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with 20 other organizations for assistance. As a direct outcome of their efforts, the lead pipes in every household in Benton Harbor are being replaced by this spring 2023.
From the moment the elevated lead levels in the drinking water were confirmed, the BHCWC has been actively engaged in providing assistance to residents. They have delivered numerous tons of water to residents and installed over 1200 water filters to reduce lead exposure. As a trusted messenger, the BHCWC also facilitated water sample collections from residents for lead testing on behalf of the City. Protecting the health of the youth, BHCWC worked with Nalgene and Freshwater Future to install water filter stations at Benton Harbor Public Schools.
The drinking water in Benton Harbor, MI is improving as a direct result of the actions of the BHCWC. Freshwater Future has been proud to support the BHCWC with grant funding, water advocacy campaign support, capacity building, and technology training. To follow the continued work of the water council and learn more about how you can support their work, check out their Facebook page.