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Report: Prompt Action Is Needed for Best-Practices Upgrade of New Jersey’s Urban Water Infrastructure

September 9th, 2014 by

BlogPost_9_9_14On Sept. 4, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread released its convening report detailing the findings and lessons learned from the May 20-21 event  that explored how New Jersey’s municipalities can address the problems presented by aging water infrastructure systems. Hosted by The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and New Jersey Future and with the support of honorary co-chairs, former Governors Jim Florio and Christie Whitman, the gathering allowed New Jersey thought leaders to hear from experts from Washington, D.C., Cincinnati and North Carolina. The message from these speakers was clear: New Jersey’s cities should address their aging water systems and required upgrades now, to avoid potential litigation and court-imposed sanctions that would limit their flexibility.

Roxanne Qualls, former mayor and two-time councilwoman of Cincinnati, stressed the importance of keeping the community engaged throughout the process of planning for water infrastructure upgrades. She described how Cincinnati officials made the benefits of upgrading their infrastructure tangible and visible by incorporating green infrastructure that created new parks and green jobs for residents and revitalized neighborhoods.

George Hawkins, general manager for DC Water, described first-hand the costs of inaction in Washington, D.C., where a court-imposed consent decree mandated the construction of expensive underground stormwater storage tunnels. He explained that this heavy-handed approach has limited the city’s ability to explore alternatives that would be visible to the public, unlike the tunnels. He recommended engaging affected mayors personally and early in the planning effort for water infrastructure upgrades.

Jeff Hughes, director of the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina, shared the work done by his organization to answer the most pressing question that most municipalities will likely face:  funding. His organization provides information and tools to assist municipalities and utilities in making informed decisions on how best to fund water infrastructure improvements.

This report is part of a larger effort by New Jersey Future to highlight the importance of water resources as key to advancing New Jersey’s prosperity and environmental health. Included in the report is the Agenda for Change agreed to by the attendees from the May meeting. To learn more about New Jersey Future’s water infrastructure efforts, please visit our water resource page.

As part of the foundation’s mission to serve as a catalyst for change, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, through its Charting New Waters initiative,  brings together experts and thought leaders from across the country to examine freshwater-related challenges, successes, innovations and potential solutions that can bridge geographies and inform state and national policy.

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