LETTER – EPA Gives Water Funding, But Won’t Solve Water Crisis

The EPA has awarded $70 million to New Jersey to help finance water infrastructure projects to protect public health and the environment. Most of the funding will go towards the New Jersey Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which is administrated by the DEP and its financing program, the Environmental Infrastructure Trust. The funds will primarily be used to upgrade wastewater and drinking water systems throughout the state. It is important that the state is receiving money from the federal government, but it will not be enough to solve all over our programs. Along with the combination of outdated infrastructure and the Christie Administration’s rollbacks on water protections, we have serious problems with our drinking water.


“The EPA giving New Jersey $70 million to update our water infrastructure is very much needed because we are facing a water crisis in New Jersey. The problem is while the EPA is giving out this money, it will not go enough to fix all of our water problems. Thanks to old and outdated infrastructure, we’re seeing chemical contamination in our drinking water and pipes that are leaking and falling apart. We have incidents of contaminated drinking water across the state, especially in places like Newark, Paterson, and Camden. We have school children drinking lead in their water and old pipes that leak out sometimes 25% of the water going through them,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “While the EPA is giving out this funding they are also eliminating clean water programs, pollution testing and other vital programs. This shows this money is really green cover for all of the damage the Trump Administration by rolling back environmental protections.”


As a result of aging infrastructure, lead from old pipes has caused illness and even in small amounts can lead to brain damage and learning disabilities. It can also lead to childhood development problems and other serious health issues. Thousands of children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in our state each year; over 3,000 in 2015 alone. Under the Christie Administration, we have also seen proposals to roll back water quality protections that will increase development and add more pollution to our waterways. Another problem the report identified is that we have not yet identified future needs of our water supply because the Master Plan hasn’t been updated in 20 years. We also need to set a drinking water standard for trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE) to protect public health.


“Our water is at risk and we need to fix our old leaky pipes. We have a serious problem with lead in our drinking water because many cities in New Jersey, have old pipes and aging water infrastructure. Some of this infrastructure goes back to the Victorian Age. This is a least a $8 billionproblem that needs to be fixed immediately to keep the lead out of our schools. One quarter of our water is also leaking out of these pipes,” said Jeff Tittel. “Not only do we have hundreds of old and unsafe dams, we have a flawed and outdated Water Supply Master Plan. Our Governor has tried to weaken protections in the Highlands and Pinelands that protect our clean drinking water. These rule proposals undo years of planning and progress protecting water quality. These changes are a part of the Administration’s failure to update the Water Supply Master Plan, preventing the Drinking Water Quality Institute from meeting, and failure to set a drinking water standard for the dangerous chemicals TCE and PCE.”


New Jersey has one of the worst records in the country when it comes to combined sewer overflows and we have sewer plants that are vulnerable to severe storms like Hurricane Sandy. In our older cities our sewer systems and our storm water systems are combined so every time it rains it pours raw sewage into our waterways and even into people’s homes. This includes the many toxic chemicals from contaminated sites and industrial discharges that get mixed in. According to Climate Central, The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark discharged 840 million gallons of untreated sewage into Newark Bay as a result of coastal flooding from Sandy. Then, while the area was being cleaned-up another 3 billion gallons of partially treated sewage overflowed. In Middlesex County, another 1.1 billion gallons of untreated sewage discharge to local waters.

“We need to do more to clean up our combined sewer overflow because they are a health hazard. Dilapidated storm water systems exacerbate the problem by increasing the water in combined sewers and we need funding to reduce the amount of water in sewers during major storm events. The biggest source of pollution we face is nonpoint pollution and we need to retrofit our stormwater basins to protect our waterways, while revitalizing our waterfront neighborhoods and communities. We need at least $13 billion just to fix our combined sewer overflow systems, but overall we need more than $45 billion to fix our water and sewage infrastructure,” said Jeff Tittel. “After Hurricane Sandy, we had over one hundred sewage plants knocked out and these facilities must be retrofitted so we can handle future flooding and severe storms. This has caused billions of gallons of untreated sewage into our waterways. We also have problems with infiltration and inflow that causes wastewater overflows into the pipes in the collection system.”


In the last 20 years, six New Jersey reservoirs have closed because of pollution and thousands of wells have closed because contamination. This plan fails to mention that we have 3500 contaminated sites near drinking water wells. At the same time, our water supply rivers are too low and dirty because DEP has failed to clean up our waterways.


“There has been a drought of action to address droughts and New Jersey is still vulnerable. We have groundwater levels dropping throughout the state because there is over pumping of our aquifers causing them to drop. This is also caused by upstream development robbing areas of water and discharge from sewer plants. In 1996 approximately, 15 percent of streams were considered pristine.  Today only one stream system in the state, the Flat Brook, meets all the criteria of the Clean Water Act. At the same time, DEP has done nothing to address impervious cover and has allowed more over-development,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Instead of addressing these issues, the Christie Administration has rolled back water protections such as the Flood Hazard Rules, Water Quality Management Planning Rules and Highlands Septic Density Rules. These rollbacks allow for more development in environmentally sensitive areas threatening our drinking water.”