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N.J. needs a flood of funding to weather catastrophic rainstorms, August 9, 2023New Jersey Future Op-Ed Button

By Lindsey Sigmund

From flash flood warnings and commuting delays to mudslides and a state of emergency declaration, New Jersey experienced the latest in the series of anxiety-inducing rain storms last month.

July storms have triggered flash floods, severe storms, and marine watches and warnings that have impacted every corner of the state, and dropped torrential rain throughout the Northeast region.

New Jersey is a coastal state, with many streams and rivers running across our landscape, so we are no strangers to flooding. So, why are rain events like we saw this month still taking us by surprise?

Our roads, homes, businesses, stormwater systems, and other critical infrastructure were not built to function in the heavy rain events we have been experiencing. Just two inches of rain can have catastrophic consequences. These flooding events underscore the need for water infrastructure investments, and to build and upgrade our infrastructure using climate-informed data. We need to rethink what flood risk means; recent heavy rains demonstrate certain flooding areas have not previously flooded so severely, nor do they currently fall within our mapped floodplains.

With storm severity increasing and previously rare storm events becoming more common due to climate change, the effects and damages wrought by storms are set to increase, unless we adjust our course.

A great deal of effort and funding is dedicated to visible infrastructure like roads, bridges, and homes, yet our invisible infrastructure remains an afterthought. This month, New Jersey’s legislature approved the budget for fiscal year 2024.

There have been monumental amounts of funding made available through federal stimulus and recovery efforts, however, New Jersey’s budgetary commitment to water infrastructure has fallen short.

A request for $700 million for water infrastructure turned into a mere $20 million allocation from the remaining Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund in the new budget, despite the $7 billion funding gap in the next five years to meet our needs.

July’s severe storms stress the necessity to dedicate more funding quickly in order to ensure basic public safety and health. What we prioritize now will yield continuing protections for people and infrastructure, and provide economic benefits for generations to come. New Jersey Future and its partners will continue to emphasize the need for additional funding among our elected officials until this funding gap is closed.

On a brighter note, NJDEP’s Inland Flood Protection Rule (IFP), the first phase of NJ PACT (Protecting Against Climate Threats), went into effect this month, which addresses new and rebuilt infrastructure in our inland areas. Through the use of updated precipitation data, the IFP Rule will ensure that infrastructure built in our inland communities vulnerable to riverine flooding and increased rainfall will be raised out of harm’s way and that our stormwater systems are properly sized to accommodate future changes in precipitation. Later this year, the much anticipated second phase of NJ PACT will be announced to address the coastal regions of our state.

While this regulatory reform expands the area considered flood prone and will change the way we build or rebuild in vulnerable areas, there is more work to be done to ensure we have a holistic understanding of flood risk and that our existing assets are protected. This rule change will not address our existing infrastructure in harm’s way, just like the inundated roads in NJ and throughout the Northeast. In particular, our existing stormwater infrastructure, the system of pipes that carries stormwater away from roads and homes, was not built to convey such high volumes of rainfall.

These systems must be updated and enlarged to cope with the stress of the rain events now, and the more severe events forecasted in our future. New Jersey Future applauds the efforts of NJDEP to address new infrastructure and calls on our state to dedicate the necessary funding to address our existing vulnerabilities.

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

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