NJ’s ‘alarming’ water infrastructure called out in new report
Every day on your way to work, you have no problem spotting New Jersey's crumbling transportation infrastructure — as you avoid potholes and shift lanes for emergency road repairs.
But there's another ticking time bomb that's essentially invisible, right under your feet. And a new report from Jersey Water Works suggests the public and elected officials are not fully aware of the problem New Jersey is facing and the urgent need to start doing something about it.
According to the collaborative of more than 300 members, New Jersey's water infrastructure has reached an alarming condition — plagued with century-old pipelines and dysfunctional systems that combine rainwater and raw sewage — that can no longer be ignored.
Cracked water mains and leaks result in the loss of an estimated 130 million gallons of treated, potable water on a daily basis in the Garden State, the report says. Lead and other contaminants in school drinking water, it says, threaten a generation of children.
"Water infrastructure is much different because it's hidden and people don't see it until it becomes a problem," Mark Mauriello, co-chair of Jersey Water Works and a former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, told New Jersey 101.5. "What we're trying to do is raise awareness that these problems are there whether you see them or not."
Beyond educating individuals about the state's aging and hurting water infrastructure, the report says priority solutions include promoting asset management among utilities — conducting routine inspections and identifying maintenance needs — and identifying long-term funding to support the state's "tremendous needs."
"The work is expensive and it's a little daunting when you look at the scope of the problem and the needs and those associated costs," Mauriello said.
But those costs, he said, will just worsen over time if today's problems are not addressed.
"We do have successful funding programs — just not enough money to really accelerate the work that we need to do," Mauriello added.
Acknowledging that much of New Jersey's infrastructure is in need of upgrades, and capital investments over the years have not kept up with replacement needs, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said "water suppliers must use sound asset management strategies and make consistent, long-term capital investments to ensure reliable infrastructure for the future."
The New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust, an independent state financing authority, has distributed $6.3 billion in low-interest, long-term loans over the past three decades to upgrade and strengthen the state's water and wastewater infrastructure, DEP said. In fiscal year 2017, the state approved $450 million for clean water and drinking water projects.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates the cost to bring New Jersey's drinking water, wastewater and storm water systems into a "state of good repair" would be $25 billion, over 20 years, Jersey Water Works said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.