New Jersey has a golden opportunity to repair its outdated water infrastructure, thanks to a potential flood of federal funding. And the new leaders of the state’s main water advocacy group want to make sure the money goes where they say it’s needed most.
Andy Kricun and Nicole Miller, the new co-chairs of Jersey Water Works urge state and local governments and water utilities to focus on underserved communities when deciding how to use billions of dollars to fix water line leaks, replace lead service lines, or eliminate combined sewer overflows.
Expected $ 2-3 billion from President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure package, plus previous American Rescue Plan funding and low-interest state funding, add to a windfall unexpected for public and private services that provide drinking water and wastewater. services and face a huge bill to bring their systems up to 21st century standards.
“This is a unique opportunity for New Jersey as well as for the whole country, probably not since the funding of the Clean Water Act (1972),” said Kricun, former executive director of the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority. “We really need to prepare for it to make sure New Jersey gets its fair share of the funding, and more importantly, the funding goes to the communities that need it most. “
Billion dollar down payment
The new funding looks likely to be a big down payment on the $ 25 billion in 20-year infrastructure repair and replacement that Jersey Water Works says is needed to fix a system whose maintenance has been largely neglected since its inception. construction decades, if not centuries ago. .
Jersey Water Works is a non-profit organization that advocates for the repair or replacement of water infrastructure including lead service lines, wastewater treatment plants and combined sewer overflows. The group was created in 2015 to raise awareness among the public and policy makers on the need to upgrade an aging system that has been neglected in some places maintenance. The collaboration now has more than 600 members such as utilities, local governments, environmental non-profit organizations and academic institutions.
Kricun, who overhauled Camden’s sanitation system using low-interest loans from the State Infrastructure Bank, said the expected new funding could significantly reduce the massive bill for the reconstruction of water supply infrastructure if the money is used to obtain long-term loans. with the main forgiveness. He estimated the new money could leverage up to $ 15 billion to $ 20 billion, part of which would be used for projects in environmental justice communities.
“This funding will go a long way in helping the most vulnerable communities,” he said in an interview with NJ Spotlight News.
Miller, director of MnM Consulting, a media communications and marketing consultancy, said environmental justice communities often face multiple water-related challenges such as lead in drinking water, soils and toxic air and combined sewer overflows, which dump untreated sewage and runoff into rivers and even streets during heavy rains.
“There are a whole host of issues we need to be aware of when making decisions about how the money is to be spent,” she said.
Miller and Kricun were already board members of Jersey Water Works and were selected in May to replace Jane Kenny and Mark Mauriello who co-chaired the collaboration for the first six years of its existence.
Large mix of participants
Amy Goldsmith, New Jersey director for the nonprofit Clean Water Action – who is a member of the collaboration – said her main achievement has been bringing together various stakeholders, including utilities, local governments, Nonprofits, colleges, lawmakers and unions expect this work to continue under the new leadership.
“They should continue to bring together diverse voices to advocate for strategically placed money in overburdened communities where people can least afford to make the upgrades,” she said. “Jersey Water Works is a trusted place where people from different backgrounds can network. We are all in one place on equity issues and don’t waste this incredible once in a lifetime opportunity.
With the new funding, Goldsmith urged the group to advocate for a refocus on historically underserved communities.
This can mean making sure a community has the means to seek out available funds, Miller said. Some cities do not have an editor for grants or the resources to find out what local people need, she said.
“It’s more than just getting the money, it’s being prepared to allocate it the right way so that it reaches those who need it most,” she said.
Out of sight out of mind
The biggest challenge for Jersey Water Works, Miller said, is educating regulators, professionals and the public on the need to renew water infrastructure. Because water pipes are buried underground, most people don’t even think about it until an emergency such as a broken water pipe or sewer overflow. literally make the problem known to the public.
Public understanding of the issues was facilitated by Jersey Water Check, a website that provides detailed information about each drinking water and wastewater system, such as whether it has lead service lines and whether the utility treats bacteria or has an affordability program.
The system was launched by Jersey Water Works in March and helps the public better understand water infrastructure, Miller said.
“When we have these conversations with people, they may feel more relaxed about having this relationship out of sight and out of mind with their water infrastructure because they know ‘I can check, “” she said.
Paula Figueroa, program manager for Jersey Water Works, based at the nonprofit New Jersey Future, predicted that the new leadership will focus on upgrading water infrastructure in environmental justice communities.
“Their understanding of environmental equity and justice is really strong, so the questions continue to be: how can we make water affordable for all and have water quality meet the highest standards? ” she said.
Kricun, now Managing Director of Moonshot missions, a nonprofit that advises on water system upgrades and operations, said the new funds should mean more support for projects such as replacing lead service lines, repairing water pipes and modernization of wastewater treatment plants. He said he would ask him to go where he is most needed.
“The majority of the funding tends to go to the more resource-rich communities, and we don’t want that to happen here in New Jersey with this opportunity,” he said.