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Let’s invest in projects that guarantee we’ll have clean water, June 25, 2020New Jersey Future Op-Ed Button

By Chris Sturm

As we move toward reopening and recovery, the government response to COVID-19 must assure a clean water future for all communities in New Jersey. And we can do so while growing New Jersey’s economy and creating thousands of much needed jobs, Chris Sturm is the managing director of policy and water at New Jersey Future, Chris Sturm of New Jersey Future. Rachel Ellis | MLive

There’s nothing like a pandemic to remind us of the basic essentials — like clean water — for staying healthy. COVID-19 has elevated handwashing and the need for universal access to running water, since those who’ve experienced water shut-offs and cannot wash their hands can more easily become infected.

Like so many other critical services today, access to clean water is an issue of equity. More than 27 million Americans today are served by water systems violating health-based standards established in the Safe Drinking Water Act. Low-income communities and communities of color are impacted hardest due to decades of underinvestment in safe and reliable water infrastructure and to a lack of affordability.

Get the lead out —

Require and enable the replacement of every lead service line within 10 years. With most people sheltering at home all day, every day, children who live in the estimated 10% of New Jersey homes still using lead service lines to deliver water are at even greater risk of lead poisoning. Fortunately, we can virtually eliminate the risk of lead from drinking water, and soon. Governor Murphy and legislative leaders have announced comprehensive strategies to do so, based on the ground-breaking solutions provided by the Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force. The City of Newark has proven that the approach works, by replacing over 12,000 lines since March of last year. Bills that have already been introduced to ensure lead service lines replacement can be refined and passed as soon as the Legislature is able to return to regular business. This investment will more than pay for itself.

Fix leaky pipes —

Healthy water systems not only deliver safe drinking water, they don’t waste it. Leaky underground drinking water pipes in New Jersey lose an estimated 130 million gallons of treated drinking water each day squandering precious natural water supplies and energy used in the treatment process. It’s time to enact amendments to the Water Quality Accountability Act to ensure that all of our water systems, large and small, are investing proactively in fixes like these that lower long-term costs. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection must implement this law with effective regulations that give customers the information they need to trust their water systems.

Adopt climate-safe infrastructure standards —

The Department of Environmental Protection is preparing new standards for the construction of essential infrastructure based on the best available science regarding future storms and sea-level rise. These standards must be adopted now so cities and water utilities can design projects to take advantage of federal stimulus funds that are not only “shovel ready” but also “climate ready.”

Ensure affordable water and sewer for everyone —

None of the solutions above can be considered a success unless every person has access to clean, reliable drinking water and sewer services. New laws allowing water utilities to assist low-income customers are easy first steps. We can build on this by crafting a state and federal-level assistance program that prevents the most vulnerable from water shut-offs, similar to how home heating assistance programs protect people facing freezing winter temperatures.

COVID-19 has reminded us that we can’t stay healthy without clean water. The pandemic may also deliver much-needed federal funding. New Jersey has equitable solutions for reliable, affordable, drinking water. Let’s harness the power and creativity of our utility managers and the leadership of our state and federal officials as we restart and recover a healthier, stronger, more resilient New Jersey for everyone.

Chris Sturm is the managing director of policy and water at New Jersey Future. She is a member of the Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force and the US Water Alliance One Water Council.

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