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NJDEP Issues Sewer Permits That Will Launch Generational Investments

News-release-graphic100pxFor Immediate Release:

Contact: Chris Sturm  (csturmatnjfuturedotorg)  , Senior Director of State Policy, 609-393-0008 ext. 114 or 609-213-4673

TRENTON, March 13, 2015 — The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today issued final permits to the 25 cities and utilities that operate combined-sewer systems (CSSs), a first step to updating decrepit infrastructure, minimizing flooding and keeping raw sewage from reaching public waterways.

The new permits require affected towns and sewer treatment authorities to create and adopt plans to address the problems triggered by the sewer systems, which are designed to collect stormwater runoff, untreated sewage and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. As a result, the combined stormwater and sewage overwhelm treatment plants when it rains, and the toxic slurry flows into rivers through combined-sewer overflows (CSOs).  Once the plans are adopted, they will launch investments in CSO solutions that are expected to cost billions and take decades to complete.  (See our CSO Fact Sheet for more details.)

A full list of combined-sewer permittees, the jurisdictions they serve and the number of outfalls for which they are responsible appears at the end of this release. See our CSOs by the Numbers document for a profile of these communities and systems.

“New Jersey’s cities and authorities now have a unique opportunity to turn minimum regulatory compliance into maximum community benefit,” said Peter Kasabach, New Jersey Future’s executive director. “Cities with CSOs suffer from localized flooding, sewage backing up into basements and streets, and polluted waterways. The plans required by the permits can propose visionary, comprehensive solutions, with multiple community benefits for our cities’ environment, its economic future, and the health and quality of life of its residents.”

Under the permits, entities may  propose a variety of approaches to mitigate CSO problems, as long as they are cost-effective and  can meet required reductions in overflows of untreated sewage. A network of government officials, water and sewer providers  and nonprofit organizations, including DEP and New Jersey Future, have been working to educate decision-makers in these communities on best practices from around the country, including techniques like water conservation and “green” infrastructure that reduce the amount of stormwater and sewage entering the combined system, as well as smart approaches to managing traditional “gray” infrastructure solutions like new pipes and underground stormwater storage chambers.

“These permits are an important first step in upgrading the state’s combined sewer systems to reduce pollution and foster healthy, vibrant communities,” said Chris Daggett, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation president and chief executive officer. “It’s also an opportune moment for communities and utility authorities to put in place innovative, green solutions, including parks, gardens and streetscapes, that have proven to help address flooding, reduce costs, and keep our waterways clean.”

Green-infrastructure measures capture stormwater before it enters a city’s drainage system, thereby lowering the potential for sewage overflows. Examples of green infrastructure include rain barrels, bioswales, rain gardens and pervious pavement. In addition to managing stormwater, these initiatives also help create greener, healthier urban environments that raise property values and create jobs for local residents.

Since many of the entities covered by the new permits are in New Jersey’s most economically distressed urban areas, financing these upgrades will be a significant challenge. In May 2014, New Jersey Future, in partnership with the Dodge Foundation and the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, convened a diverse group of leaders to identify key strategies that will help enable upgrades to these antiquated systems. From that meeting, the group issued its Agenda for Change (pdf), detailing key areas for action including maximizing current operational efficiencies, working regionally and sharing best practices to build capacity, and diversifying funding sources.

“Cities will not be able to afford these upgrades unless their investments also help to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods,” said New Jersey Future Senior Director of State Policy Chris Sturm. “But ratepayers, residents and businesses will be supportive if they can see tangible improvements — better waterfront recreation, new parks, and less flooding.  We are urging permittees to take a strategic approach and engage with the public early and often.”

For more background information on combined-sewer systems in New Jersey and to sign up for a monthly newsletter on urban water infrastructure issues in the state, please visit the urban water resource section on New Jersey Future’s website.

What They’re Saying

“Right now, the state of our water infrastructure is often seen as a deterrent to private investment in our cities. Through a myriad of neighborhood initiatives, Camden has started to make necessary infrastructure improvements and it is already starting to pay off.  We will continue to take steps to make improvements to our water infrastructure so that it becomes both an asset to the community and a catalyst for additional investment.”

— Dana Redd, Mayor, City of Camden

“New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s permits are a critical step forward in realizing our shared  goals for improving water quality and the quality of life of people throughout the estuary. Together with our partners in the Harbor’s Federal/Bi-State Management Conference, we are committed to helping municipalities and wastewater utilities meet this challenge.”

— Robert Pirani, Director, New York – New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program

“These permits give us a great opportunity to familiarize our community with all the benefits of green infrastructure. Not only can we make real progress preventing sewer overflows, we can make our communities cleaner, healthier and more attractive, and create good local jobs in the process.”

— Kim Gaddy, an environmental justice organizer with Clean Water Action and a member of Newark DIG, a collaboration of groups working towards making green infrastructure an integral part of stormwater management in Newark.

“New Jersey cities have a huge opportunity to catch-up on overdue water infrastructure investments. DEP’s new permits provide the needed push for 21 cities, which must now take up the mantle. By adding green space in these cities — and in suburbs statewide that face similar problems of polluted runoff — New Jersey can improve local communities and clean up a major pollution source in the states rivers, lakes, and bays.”

— Larry Levine, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council

 

Affected Permittees and Jurisdictions (no. of CSO outfalls)

Bergen County Utilities Authority

Borough of Fort Lee (2)

City of Hackensack (2)

Village of Ridgefield Park (6)

Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority

City of Camden (28)

Camden County (1)

City of Gloucester (7)

Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties

City of Elizabeth (28)

Middlesex County Utilities Authority

City of Perth Amboy (16)

North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority

Town of Guttenberg (1)

Township of North Bergen (1)

North Hudson Sewerage Authority

City of Hoboken/City of Union City/Township of Weehawken (8)

Town of West New York (2)

Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission

City of Bayonne (30)

Borough of East Newark (1)

Town of Harrison (7)

City of Jersey City (21)

Town of Kearny (5)

City of Newark (17)

Township of North Bergen (9)

City of Paterson (24)

Trenton Sewer Utility

Trenton (1)

 

© New Jersey Future, 16 W. Lafayette St. • Trenton, NJ 08608 • Phone: 609-393-0008 • Fax: 609-360-8478