NJ intervenes at water utility after neighboring towns complain
TRENTON – State environmental officials announced they will intervene in the daily operations of the Trenton Water Works, which for years has failed to meet requirements for safe drinking water or take steps to address its problems.
The announcement follows a months-long compliance evaluation of the utility, which provides water to more than 200,000 residents of Mercer County. It was not described as a takeover but rather as “direct operational oversight” to ensure maintenance and operational needs are met.
“Protecting our children, families and businesses is a responsibility that all levels of government share, and one that we must leverage every existing partnership to fulfill,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.
“Clean and safe drinking water is a human right but delivering this public good is a far more complex undertaking than one might expect,” said Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.
“The depth of managerial, technical, and financial expertise required to ensure consistent operation, maintenance, and improvement of a water system is significant. Yet, not all systems are created equal, and we must invest more time, attention, and resources in those that need our help.”
Political battles involving utility
The utility’s management has been caught up in the political battles in Trenton’s city government, with approvals for some projects withheld by the City Council.
“We are resolute and determined in our efforts to build on the substantial progress we’ve made, fulfilling the promise I made to modernize the TWW system to ensure clean and safe drinking water for our customers and service-area residents for generations to come,” said Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora.
In addition to Trenton itself, the utility serves parts of Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell and Lawrence townships. Mayors of those towns had been pushing for such a move and applauded the state for acting.
“Said in a more simple way, today the state is taking over running TWW,” said Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin. “This is a major step towards reaching our simple goal: to ensure all TWW customers have reliably clean and safe drinking water. Further, the order from NJDEP requires the City Council to approve all items necessary to ensure our goal is reached, guaranteeing a road block to progress is neutralized.”
State plan for Trenton Water Works explained
The initiative is outlined in a DEP administrative order, including two phases that will be pursued concurrently.
One phase is the retention and deployment of a capacity-building force of managerial and technical experts focused on improving routine operations and maintenance, as well as immediate capital needs. This will include a third-party adviser that will be embedded in the system for the purposes of monitoring and assessing all system operations and maintenance.
The other phase is a full-scale assessment and preparation of organizational and operational recommendations. The third-party adviser will issue a report that will serve the basis of future action and spending on system improvements.