Trenton — New Jersey faces a multi-billion dollar gap in its water quality infrastructure but has no coherent plan to address its self-identified needs, according to testimony delivered today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) before the annual Clean Water Council hearing. New Jersey’s economic future is placed at risk if the state continues to ignore its large and growing unfunded water infrastructure deficits, PEER warns.
According to state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records –
- New Jersey must invest $12.8 billion in water pollution controls in order to meet the standards of the Clean Water Act, including $3.2 billion to upgrade sewage treatment plants and pipes, $4.9 billion for combined sewer overflows, and $2.8 billion for non-point source pollution controls;
- Currently, nearly 1,000 lakes, rivers, streams, bays, and estuaries are unsafe for fishing, swimming and drinking and do not comply with federal Clean Water Act standards; and
- Less than 7% of local jurisdictions (13 of 193) have up-to-date wastewater management plans and more than one-third have never even adopted such plans. State funding for municipal wastewater and stormwater planning has been zeroed out.
“Our water infrastructure needs are like the 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one dares talk about for fear it will stir,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, pointing out that the state water deficit is one of the largest in the nation and by far the largest for any state of comparable size. “New Jersey is making no attempt to integrate our capital needs with our water quality planning, assessments, standards enforcement and the Environmental Infrastructure Trust Financing program.”
For example, Passaic Basin sewer authorities have long delayed pollution control upgrades to protect the Wanaque Reservoir - the water supply for 2 million residents - by claiming it will cost over $300 million. The chemical and oil industries recently blocked toxic water quality standards due to claims of $5 billion in compliance costs. Towns have not complied with federal stormwater requirements due to lack of funding, while DEP has been extremely reluctant to take enforcement action.
Failure to meet these infrastructure investment requirements threatens, among other things, New Jersey’s $36 billion tourism industry (the state’s third largest industry) that depends on clean water. Just one failure from an aging sewage treatment plant could place large portions of the shore at risk. Should Barnegat Bay, already facing an ecological crisis, experience a toxic algal bloom similar to North Carolina’s pfisteria outbreak, the region’s beach, fishing, and tourist based-economy could be devastated.
“Governor Corzine and his top advisers have been schooled in finance but need to check their work to make sure they are including our clean water deficits in their fiscal calculus,” Wolfe added, pointing to economic studies estimating billion dollar cost savings of water quality planning and investments. “Clean water is not a frill – it’s a right as well as one of our most strategic state assets.”
Each year, New Jersey loses another 15,000 acres of land to urban sprawl which, in turn, puts additional stresses on aging infrastructure capacity as well as further polluting the state’s waters.
“We have already avoided paying the piper for clean water too long,” Wolfe concluded, noting that there is virtually no public discussion of these issues. “At the very least, the Clean Water Council ought to openly address the issue of how to generate necessary funds to pay for restoring safe and clean water in New Jersey.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.