By Erin Delmore
“When we bump in the streets we see the potholes and we see the bridges in despair. We don’t see the 50,000 miles of pipes that are subterranean,” said Assemblyman John McKeon.
New Jersey’s aging water system has the attention of six state lawmakers. The Joint Legislative Task Force on Drinking Water Infrastructure met to discuss needed improvements and how to fund them.
“When I first took this job almost three years ago, water wasn’t on the front page. When I wake up and read the paper or go online, not a day goes by when water isn’t in the news,” said NJDEP Assistant Commissioner for Water Resources Daniel Kennedy.
The drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich. garnered national attention. New Jersey activists said it served as a wake-up call.
“New Jersey’s water infrastructure is failing and it’s getting worse. We’ve gotten a grade for drinking water of C and for wastewater infrastructure of D from the American Society of Civil Engineers. And we have a price tag from the EPA back in 2008 of $40 billion over the next 20 years,” said Chris Sturm, managing director of policy and water for New Jersey Future.
The job: repair and replace New Jersey’s underground pipes, some of which are nearly a century old and run for tens of thousands of miles. Officials said we lose 30 percent of our treated drinking water due to leaky pipes. Others burst, causing traffic jams and boil water advisories. Hoboken is approaching two dozen water main breaks this year alone.
Today’s aim: looking at the amount of treated water lost annually, asset management and the bureaucracy involved in determining rates.
“New Jersey is under a bit of pressure. When you have 25 percent of people in our cities living under the federal poverty line, what do you do with rates?” McKeon said.
Congressman Frank Pallone joined to talk about the battle for resources on Capitol Hill, where this issue has been flat-funded for 20 years. Pallone is the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“I spoke to our new Republican chairman. He said, you know, we do want to do something more robust on this. One of the two areas where President-elect Trump and Hillary Clinton agreed, was that they wanted to have a more robust Federal Infustructure Program,” he said.
Notably, the task force chose not to dwell on lead contamination in New Jersey’s water infrastructure. That will be the main focus of the next meeting, in the new year.