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NJDEP Finalizes Water Infrastructure Investment Priorities for 2023

November 29th, 2022 by

Photo Credit: Moriah Kinberg

By Brianne Callahan and Lindsey Sigmund

All New Jerseyans deserve to drink clean water, to avoid flooding and sewage backups in their homes and neighborhoods, and to pay affordable water and sewer charges. Every single one. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Today, our state’s outdated, overwhelmed, and undersized water systems are failing at an alarming rate, endangering public health and public safety, and holding us back from being the healthy, vibrant, and resilient state that we want to be. Staggeringly, an estimated $26 billion is needed to fix New Jersey’s water infrastructure over the next 20 years.

The good news is that we’re getting closer. To begin addressing our infrastructure funding gap, our Governor and Legislature allocated $300 million of New Jersey’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars in June, 2022. Following our state leadership’s example, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) announced that $248 million of this ARPA funding will be used to address combined sewage overflows (CSOs), in which localized flooding and raw sewage is dumped into rivers and streams from older water systems. This is welcome funding for New Jersey’s 21 CSO communities, and we are excited about what this funding will accomplish. It certainly seems like a lot of money, but it’s only a small fraction of the billions needed to improve our water infrastructure.

Let us explain. Throughout New Jersey, there are a myriad of infrastructure needs. Our systems have been sorely neglected over the last 50 years, and, in addition to addressing CSOs, communities are required to replace lead service lines by 2031 and comply with ever increasing stormwater management requirements—a necessary, but often prohibitively costly step towards building more resilient water systems in communities. The NJDEP Intended Use Plan for federal and state water infrastructure funding includes 679 water infrastructure projects in need of approximately $6 billion in funding. The $300 million in ARPA funding mentioned above is expected to be paired with the $1 billion for water infrastructure received from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law over the next five years. If you do the math, this equates to an estimated $4.7 billion gap in funding for the backlog of projects outlined in the Intended Use Plan. Further piling on, this number does not include high priority projects not yet identified and/or submitted by localities due to timing or lack of planning resources. This funding gap demonstrates in no uncertain terms the priority which water infrastructure improvements must be given in the coming years and decades, in order to protect our communities and avert even greater crises in the future.

So, let’s keep our foot on the proverbial gas. Continuing their problem-solving leadership, the Governor and the Legislature should allocate a significant portion of the estimated $1.4 billion in remaining ARPA dollars to address this funding gap and ensure ratepayer relief for New Jerseyans who would otherwise see increases in water bills, sewer bills, and possibly local property taxes. Every New Jerseyan deserves access to clean and healthy water systems, and it is the responsibility of our elected leaders to ensure this is the case.

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