State DEP Takes Steps to Curb Sewage Runoff Into Surface Water

By Tom Johnson for NJ Spotlight

The state is taking steps to address its long-running problems with water quality by dealing with the pollution that flows into New Jersey’s waterways when heavy rainfall leads to raw sewage being dumped into surface water.

In the next few weeks, the state Department of Environmental Protection will issue final permits for 25 municipalities and regional sewage authorities to develop long-term strategies to deal with the problem. The issue has long been recognized by policymakers, but largely neglected, partly due to the huge cost, which could run to tens of billion dollars, according to some projections.

Most of the so-called combined sewer-overflow systems (CSOs) — lines that direct both sewage and storm water to regional treatment facilities — are in the New York-New Jersey Harbor region. Overall, there are 217 CSO outfalls in the state covered by the draft permits, according to the DEP.

When it rains heavily, the CSO systems cannot handle both the sewage going to wastewater treatment plants and storm runoff, both of which go through the same pipelines.

Each year, more than 7 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into New Jersey’s waterways. Despite issuing the final permits in the next few weeks, the problem will not be quickly solved. The DEP is giving towns and authorities up to 5 years to develop strategies to reduce the problem, longer to figure out how to end the pollution.

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