By Brenda Flanagan
See a corroded old fire hydrant made almost 70 years ago? Workers for SUEZ Water pulled this up in Moonachie, discarded the old lead connectors and lowered a new fire hydrant into the ground.
This repair cost $5,000. But, fixing all of New Jersey’s aging water infrastructure — where water mains routinely break — carries an almost $18 billion price tag and funding sources seemed to be tapped out, political pressure, weak. That is, until Flint, Mich.
“The massive lead contamination of the city’s drinking water is very much on the national radar,” from PBS NewsHour.
“Flint, Mich. is like the two by four across the side of your head. Sometimes we need those things. But I’m worried about the kids who’ve been drinking this water,” said New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell.
Pascrell joined Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today. They plan to reintroduce a bill that would help pay for repairing the nation’s water infrastructure, including New Jersey’s, by offering tax breaks on government-backed bonds.
“We cannot wait for another health crisis like we’re seeing in Flint, Mich. We have got to be proactive, and not reactive, to a crisis. This legislation is common sense,” Booker said.
“Our bill would be one of the easiest, fastest and most effective ways to provide federal assistance to their critical water infrastructure projects — projects to prevent disruptive water main breaks, projects to protect the health and well being of our families, friends and neighbors,” Menendez said.
“The good thing about this proposal is it opens up another source of financing for water infrastructure upgrades. Flint was a wake-up call for New Jersey’s water infrastructure,” said Chris Sturm.
New Jersey’s Division of Rate Counsel calls it a “positive development for ratepayers … so that infrastructure improvement can proceed while keeping the people’s water bills reasonable.”
But could a Flint scenario actually unfold here in New Jersey?
“I would hope we can avoid having those things come together in New Jersey, but the possibility is there,” said Rutgers University Associate Research Professor Daniel Van Abs.
Van Abs says New Jersey should start with a thorough inspection.
“Looking at our lines, looking at what’s happening, finding out where our breaks are and developing an inventory of what needs to be fixed. That’s the cheap part,” he said.
SUEZ Water Vice President Bob Iacullo says the utility treats its water to avoid problems like Flint’s.
“Can we have a similar situation here in New Jersey where you switch water sources and as a result of that experience higher, elevated levels of lead? And I would say, yes there could be a possibility, but the thing is we’re testing for that, to ensure that something like that would not happen in our service system,” he said.
So what are the political chances for this bill? Well it got through the House during the last Congress, stalled in the Senate. But that was before Flint.