A drought warning covering a full two-thirds of the state and water restrictions looming, coupled with elevated lead levels in drinking water have lent new urgency to calls for a long-overdue water master plan. The Legislature’s new joint task force studying drinking water infrastructure is about to hear testimony on the current condition of the pipes and the improvements necessary. Assistant State Senate Minority leader Linda Greenstein co-chairs the task force and spoke to NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Thank you for being with us. The state’s water master plan hasn’t been updated in 20 years though legally required every five years. The Water Supply Advisory Council submitted a comprehensive plan in 2012 and hasn’t been seen since. What happened?
Greenstein: The only thing I can say is that there was not the will to do it, at least not on the part of the administration, it appears. Certainly I know the Legislature has been asking for it and we know how important it is. We’ve talked about it a lot on the environmental committee and the budget committee and it’s something that we need to do and we’re hoping that this effort today will move us forward.
Williams: Senator, some water pipes date back to the Civil War. What’s the effect on business of a water main break?
Greenstein: Well it has a tremendous effect. Fixing these water pipes will be terrific for our state economy and I’m sure will be worth billions in the long run in terms of what’s happening here in New Jersey. So, it’s extremely important and every time there’s a water main break businesses lose money, people suffer and we have to make sure that we do everything we can to try to replace these pipes. One of the problems we face is that we don’t even know which pipes are old, which ones are newer, we don’t have a really good as you say “master plan” of where everything is and that’s the first thing that we’ll have to do.
Williams: The EPA estimates that it’s going to cost $40 billion over 20 years to rebuild all those pipes. Can we afford it?
Greenstein: Well I think they’re talking about nationally, but in New Jersey I’ve seen a figure of about $8 billion which is still something that’s always very difficult for us to afford but I think we can’t afford not to do the work that’s needed.
Williams: Let’s talk about lead in the drinking water and chromium-6. What do we do about that in the interim because it’s going to take a long time for you people to come up with a plan, get it approved and then get it budgeted.
Greenstein: Right. There are chemicals from what I understand that can actually coat pipes and protect against the lead but they have not been used very well because we have found lead in the water in New Jersey and certainly in many other states. So we need to look at the lead issue, but the larger issue is the pipe itself. We need to look at the state of our water infrastructure throughout the state and figure out where the problems are. The lead and chromium are only two of the problems but there are many others.
Williams: Thank you very much, senator.
Greenstein: Thank you.