(TRENTON) – Sen. Linda Greenstein and Assemblyman John McKeon, who co-chaired the Joint Legislative Task Force on Drinking Water Infrastructure, on Wednesday praised the recommendations included in the panel’s draft report, which is to be voted upon during a Monday morning meeting.
“The crisis facing our drinking water infrastructure is a ticking time bomb,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “New Jersey has a severe crisis beneath our streets. Much of this system is past its useful life and is breaking down due to decades of underinvestment. If we do nothing, we risk our supply of safe drinking water and face increased service interruptions, more frequent and costly emergency repairs, insufficient water flow and pressure and a lack of sufficient water infrastructure to support local and state economic growth. Our economic future is at stake.”
“New Jersey’s water infrastructure crisis is the result of an aging system and a lack of investment over the course of decades. This is an issue that threatens the health, safety and economic well-being of New Jersey residents,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer). “The state must take action. The task force has recommended steps for repairing and modernizing our deteriorating infrastructure. It is our hope that the report will be used as a blueprint as we go forward.”
Greenstein and McKeon said they especially supported a recommendation for the state to issue $400 million in general obligation bonds to support upgrades to the state’s water infrastructure. Such funding would complement revenues from existing rates, which would continue to provide the majority of funds for water infrastructure.
Additionally, such funding should take the form of matching grants to incentivize investment by water systems, they noted.
“Any new state funding would be targeted strategically to incentivize increased local investments and make water infrastructure systems more efficient and cost-effective,” McKeon said. “If we do it this way, the value of each dollar spent will be maximized and the positive impacts will last for decades.”
“Funding for water infrastructure should not be viewed as a cost, but rather as an investment. Modern and reliable water infrastructure provides the foundation for a prosperous economy and healthy communities. It saves residents costs by creating more efficient systems and avoiding expensive emergency repairs. By contrast, failing to fix the State’s water infrastructure will discourage economic development, put the health of residents at risk, and raise costs for everyone,” said Senator Greenstein. “New Jersey must make the necessary policy changes and investments to upgrade its water infrastructure and ensure the continued health and prosperity of the state.”
The task force recommends that the state utilize the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust (NJEIT) as the vehicle for the delivery of these funds.
The draft report also recommends:
- Asset Management: The NJEIT should offer matching grants for infrastructure upgrades to any water system that has a fully functioning asset management program. This would create an incentive for systems that are driving down long-term costs by minimizing emergency repairs, reducing waste, and supporting sound management and innovation. Grants should be structured in such a way as to reward drinking water utilities that meet the asset management requirements in the Water Quality Accountability Act and to reward wastewater utilities and municipal storm water systems that meet any forthcoming requirements for asset management. A portion of funding should be dedicated to support water audit training and validation.
- Capacity Building: To assist smaller and economically distressed water systems that lack the staff and funding resources to conduct proactive asset management, water loss audits, and lead service line inventories, the NJEIT should offer grants to these systems, perhaps through its existing technical assistance program, designed to enable them to access the asset management implementation funding described above.
- Replacing Lead Service Lines and Mitigating CSOs: The NJEIT should increase grant funding and other financial assistance for full lead service line replacement and the mitigation of combined sewer overflows in the communities that need it most: older, economically distressed communities.
- Improving accountability and transparency: New Jersey ratepayers need to understand how their systems are performing and whether they are getting better or worse. The State should require utilities to provide, and state agencies to collect and publish, simple standardized metrics of system condition and utility finances. Funding should be conditioned on, and support, this effort.
“We are hopeful that the recommendations contained in this report will set New Jersey on a path to repairing and rehabilitating its broken water infrastructure,” Greenstein said. “This is vital to our state’s future.”
“I realize $400 million will not fix all the state’s water infrastructure woes, and that spending more money is never easy, but it would be a start and it’s a must,” McKeon said. “The status quo is absolutely unacceptable.”
The task force is scheduled to meet Monday at 10 a.m. in Committee 11 of the State House Annex in Trenton. A copy of the draft report is attached to this email.